The New York Brain Bank (NYBB) at Columbia University and donor data

Jean Paul Vonsattel – Director of the New York Brain Bank at Columbia University

The average of samples the NYBB disbursed to neuroscientists during the period 1- 2002 until 12-2011 was 4935 per year. The monthly mean of source brains of disbursed samples was 148 in 2010 and 2011 combined. Ninety percent of the requests were fulfilled within five working days from the time of their electronic placement.

More than 200,000 fresh-frozen, electronically tracked samples are currently in storage in seven, highly compartmentalized “storage freezers”. Two, additional “operative freezers” are used. In one of them, the recently processed samples are kept before being dispersed and tracked within the “storage freezers”. The other “operative freezer” is kept empty and running, as a backup, in case of emergency.

The processing of brains is performed according to a standardized protocol pertaining to both 1) the parts that are banked for research, and 2) the parts that are processed for establishing the most accurate diagnostic categorization including assessing semiquantitatively the severity and extent to the degenerative changes. Among the samples processed for research are two series of blocks, which are referred to as standard brain blocks (SBB). They are obtained from each half brain. One series consists of fresh frozen blocks. The other series consists of mirror image formalin fixed blocks obtained from the contralateral side, and is used in part for establishing a thorough neuropathological assessment. The findings gleaned from these series are assumed to reflect the changes involving the contralateral fresh frozen series, unless otherwise proven.

These two SBB series are essential to sort the samples that best matches the set of selected criteria pertaining to specific investigations. They are crucial for comparing data from same areas of brains with the same diagnostic category, and with or without the same set of demographic, or clinical variables. They allow investigations of specific degenerative changes at different stages of involvement including comparison with data from controls, or from data pertaining to different diagnostic categorization.

In addition to the standardized series of blocks, extra samples are obtained depending on the inventory, ongoing and pending requests, and on the quality of tissue, as assessable at the time of the processing the brain at the fresh state. Furthermore, samples from precisely recorded sites are pulverized in liquid nitrogen and stored in 1.8 ml vials. They are available for studies that do not depend on morphological criteria, e.g., biochemical- or molecular- base studies.

The pool of brains processed at the NYBB is mostly from patients thoroughly evaluated and followed-up by clinics of the medical center of Columbia University. Included are distinct clinics focusing either on movement disorders, or cognitive impairment – dementia, and on usual aging.

The consensus reached for the success the NYBB brain banking allows merging clinical data with pathological data, which are combined for assigning the crucial distributive diagnoses to the stored samples. Above all, brain banking is being performed while fulfilling the teaching mission imparted to the academic institution Columbia University is.

back to program