Critical European Brain Bank Being Dismantled

Matthew R Williams

The Corsellis Brain Bank is the largest neurological tissue resource in Europe with a wonderful history in research. This collection is one of the most remarkable in the world, started in 1951 and collecting until 1998, it holds astonishing numbers of well documented and well-preserved cases across many mental and neurological-disorders, as well as over 1000 control cases across all age groups: always the holy grail for… tissue banks and researchers. A detailed history of its research importance can be found in our 2010 Brain paper (1).
This collection was the source for the discovery of Pugilistica Dementia, the now-famous boxers dementia and forms of temporal and frontal lobe epilepsy. It was the source of the three Runwell series critical in researching bipolar disorder & schizophrenia, and was the key facility in measuring the effect of the UK BSE crisis on human populations.

Prof. Corsellis himself, and Prof. Bruton who co-ran the collection, died in the 1990’s and the collection was to be landfilled, but was saved and stored by Prof. Maier at the WLMHT. He obtained extensive funding from the USA by means of the Starr & Stanley Foundations, the MRC having long abandoned it. The BBC interview announcing dismantling claimed that this was done for financial reasons. This is not true. With the new storage methods the collection could be contained with only minimal overview at negligible cost. When I ran the facility, from 2007-11, there was a pressure from senior management to remove or dismantle this bank for most of that time, with grant money allocated to its maintenance blocked from being spent on vital equipment, safety and improved preservation.

After I was removed from post in 2011 the collection was left for almost a year without development or staffing. It was only after writing to both the UK Minster for Science and Minster of Health in 2012 requesting enquiries to be made about its status and future that junior staff were hired, although at this time no attempt was made to publicise the facilities to allow researchers access to the tissue, and no attempts made to obtain further funding for its support.

Dismantling a tissue bank of this nature almost entirely removes its suitability for research. Whilst some cases may be transferred to other facilities, preservation methods are rarely consistent meaning that the usefulness of the transferred tissue is compromised. Additionally even a large control cohort will be broken up swiftly, leaving only small groups of good controls left for research, scattered, isolated and largely lost to the research community. In addition it is likely not all tissue will be transferred and may well be destroyed.

Last year the R&D department of the West London Mental Health Trust (rd.office@wlmht.nhs.uk) obtained new management and has moved quickly to dismantle the Corsellis collection for reasons unclear.

A more detailed article on this subject will be published shortly online (www.oruen.com) and in next issue of ‘Oruen – The CNS Journal 2:1’ in June.
References and other links can be found at the twitter site “SavetheCorsellis” @Neuropath1951

The WLMHT R&D site can be found here:
http://www.wlmht.nhs.uk/about-wlmht/research/contact-rd/

A detailed history of the collection can be found here:
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20817923

Previous BBC interviews:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-12640605
http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p00cyblf

The public announcement of its dismantling:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b06r5d0h

1. Kasper BS, Taylor DC, Janz D, Kasper EM, Maier M, Williams MR, et al. Neuropathology of epilepsy and psychosis: the contributions of J.A.N. Corsellis. Brain. 2010;133(Pt 12):3795-805.

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