Old Brains To Assist Modern Mental Illness Study

Brains of mentally ill patients from the 19th Century will be used to develop 21st Century treatments for their modern forebears.

Human Brain

Photo: Simon Scott / Flickr

An exhibit of 400 brains from an Indianapolis museum will assist neurological researchers.

A pathologist from the Indiana University School of Medicine is hopeful 19th-century brains on display at the Indiana Medical History Museum in Indianapolis will lead to a medical breakthrough in detecting mental illness.

IU senior research professor George Sandusky says the goal is to improve diagnosis and treatment for psychological illnesses such as bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and post-traumatic stress disorder using a simple blood test.

“Hopefully by genetic profiling, we will be able to pick the right drug the first time,” Sandusky says.

The brain samples come from turn-of-the-century patients who suffered from mental disorders at Central State Hospital, an asylum established in the mid-1800s to house the state’s mentally ill. Using brain donors from traditional sources only brings in about 12 new subjects per year. The museum collection, which includes more than 400 specimens, could speed the arrival of new diagnoses and treatments for the mentally ill.

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