VA seeks brain donations for ALS project

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Hospital at 150 S. Huntington Ave. wants veterans’ brains.

As the home of an ongoing national research study on amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also called Lou Gehrig’s disease, the VA Biorepository Brain Bank (VABBB) is collecting vital information on living vets, both with and without ALS. And yes, once the vets die, the VABBB will also collect their brains.

ALS is a degenerative disorder of the brain and spinal cord. It is currently fatal and incurable.

“We’re looking at vets with ALS, looking at clinical data, health information, asking questions about their stage of ALS, learning about whether they’ve lost [certain physical] abilities, and we also learn demographic information. We speak to our vets every six months,” Latease Guilderson, the project’s coordinator at the VA told the Gazette this week. “We’re not just getting their brains, we’re trying to look at the whole picture.”

All the data gathered during the vets’ lives “allows us to get a really big picture of their experience” and how that might influence their ALS, she added.

The Boston VA is the coordinating center for the nationwide study, which has already collected 135 brains, Guilderson said.

“Our hope is that this will lead to a cure for ALS, but it’s tied to funding,” Guilderson said. “We plan to be in play as long as we need to be.”

Those brains already in the bank will provide data for hundreds of researchers and “countless studies,” Guilderson said.

“A brain donation is really an invaluable gift that provides an engine of discovery. And fortunately, we are really poised for many great breakthroughs in the scientific community,” Guilderson said.

The VABBB has recently started collecting brains of patients without ALS for comparison studies. The Boston VA has been collecting brains for the VABBB and a preceding program since 2003.

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