Autism BrainNet promotes innovative, high-quality research on postmortem brain tissue with the goal of improving the understanding of the biological causes of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and related neurodevelopmental conditions.
The brain is the main organ affected in ASD. Researchers can study the brain of living individuals by using methods such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and electroencephalography (EEG), but these methods do not allow direct access to the brain tissue. Studies of brain tissue are necessary to understand the molecules and cells that make the brain develop and function, and to understand how genetic or other changes affect the brain at the microscopic level. The only way researchers can study these microscopic properties of the human brain is by examining the brain collected postmortem.
Postmortem brain tissue is an invaluable resource for advancing our knowledge of autism biology and for identifying targets for treatments that could improve the quality of life of individuals with ASD and their families. But, brain donations are rare and tissue for research is lacking. Autism BrainNet was created with the goal of facilitating and supporting autism research that uses the precious gift of donated brain tissue.
An initiative originally formed in 2014 by the Simons Foundation and Autism Speaks, Autism BrainNet is now entirely managed and supported by the Simons Foundation Autism Research Initiative (SFARI). As part of its prior collaboration with Autism Speaks, Autism BrainNet also manages tissue that was previously collected through the Autism Tissue Program (ATP). All tissue donated to the ATP continues to be a valuable resource for autism research worldwide.
As a collaborative network of scientific institutions, Autism BrainNet includes three sites, also called nodes, in the United States and two international partnerships in Canada and the United Kingdom. Each node follows the high standards set by Autism BrainNet to collect, process, store and distribute the precious gift of donated brain tissue to qualified researchers worldwide. Applications to receive brain tissue for research are evaluated for scientific merit by the Autism BrainNet Scientific Review Committee, a group of highly respected physicians and scientists.
Autism BrainNet works with researchers and the communities affected by autism and other neurodevelopmental conditions to develop a sensitive and effective strategy for acquiring postmortem brain tissue. The donations will produce a resource that facilitates the highest quality research into the causes of these conditions. The data generated will be shared to enable the development of treatments that improve the quality of life of individuals who are affected by them.
Autism BrainNet is committed to ensuring we are living up to our values of:
- Dedication to the highest quality research
- Data sharing
- Partnering with scientific, governmental and non-profit groups
- Partnering with family-sponsored groups
- Sensitivity to families touched by autism and other neurodevelopmental conditions
- Ensuring a secure repository for the precious donations
In addition to the dedicated staff at each of our nodes, Autism BrainNet includes a centralized team. Its members are:
Director, UC Davis MIND Institute Autism Center of Excellence
Senior Scientist, SFARI