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Grant Funds Brain Disease Tissue Banks



15 Feb. 2021. An advocacy organization for neurodegenerative diseases and medical research foundation are sponsoring formation of a network to collect brain tissue samples. CurePSP in New York and Rainwater Charitable Foundation in Fort Worth, Texas are donating $1.25 million to fund a series of repositories for brain tissue samples for research on degenerative disease from damaging deposits of tau proteins in the brain.

Tau is a naturally occurring protein in the brain, but when tau proteins are misfolded they can accumulate in tangles around neurons, or nerve cells. Those accumulated tau tangles can damage nerve cells, causing taupathies, diseases marked by impaired movement as well as behavioral and cognitive decline. Among the disorders resulting from taupathies are frontotemporal dementia, progressive supranuclear palsy, post-traumatic stress disorder, and chronic traumatic encephalopathy or CTE, associated with brain injuries from military service or contact sports.

Frontotemporal dementia or FTD is a group of diseases caused by loss of nerve cells in the frontal lobes of the brain. In some cases, nerve cell loss is due to damage from tau deposits, leading to deterioration in behavior, personality, and ability to produce or comprehend language. Progressive supranuclear palsy also results from nerve cell damage due to tau deposits, causing involuntary eye movements and blurring of vision, as well as difficulty walking from loss of balance. Both disorders are progressive, meaning they get worse with time.

CurePSP is a group advocating for awareness and research on progressive supranuclear palsy, or PSP, and other neurodegenerative disorders that affect people in middle-age or younger. Rainwater Charitable Foundation supports medical research, including studies of tau-related disorders. The foundation manages the Tau Foundation and awards prizes for research on neurodegenerative diseases, including progressive supranuclear palsy.

Networking four brain tissue repositories

Rainwater Charitable Foundation and CurePSP are forming a network of brain tissue repositories in the U.S., at Mount Sinai medical school in New York, Boston University, Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Florida, and University of California in San Francisco. These institutions are already collecting samples, but the Rainwater and CurePSP funding aims to enhance their bioinformatics capabilities. The grant also expects to support a more centralized and streamlined process for accessing brain tissue samples. Rainwater is providing $1 million for the network, while CurePSP is adding $250,000.

CurePSP already encourages donations of brain tissue to aid research. “CurePSP has long promoted brain donation through a collaboration with the Mayo Clinic,” says Kristophe Diaz, CurePSP’s vice president for scientific affairs, in a Rainwater statement released on Cision, “and reimburses families for the cost of the procedure. CurePSP now has the opportunity to expand this program.”

“Despite substantial efforts within the neuropathology community,” notes William Seeley, professor of neurology and pathology at UC San Francisco and lead scientist in the network, “there remains an unmet need for centralized, streamlined, and efficient access to high quality and well-characterized tissue samples from patients with frontotemporal dementia spectrum disease.”

Amy Rommel, scientific program director for the Rainwater Charitable Foundation adds, “Once the vision for these four biobanks is fully realized, it will dramatically increase meaningful use of brain tissue in FTD research.”

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