First Czech brain bank starts operating in Prague

Radoslav Matěj

A new brain bank, the first of its kind in Central Europe, recently started operating in Prague. The facility contains parts of brain tissue from patients who died of Alzheimer's or Parkinson's disease, that have been donated for research. The samples will serve scientists in their search for an effective cure of such neurodegenerative conditions.

There are currently some 160,000 people suffering from Alzheimer's disease in the Czech Republic. Experts say that with the ageing of the population, that figure could double within the next 30 years.

Dedicated institutions such as the new brain bank in Prague are therefore essential in the effort to find new and effective drugs that could either slow down or even cure the disease.

Photo: Ondřej Vaňura,  Czech Radio

The Czech Republic’s first brain bank, which officially opened in June of this year, is located in the Thomayer University Hospital in the district of Krč. Robert Rusina is the head of the hospital’s neurology clinic:

"What you can see are brain tissues from deceased patients. They enable us to study what is going on in the brains of people affected by the disease. This is just the very basis; we are currently working on collecting more samples.

"The storage of brain tissue for scientific purposes is codified worldwide. You have to have the patient’s consent. In case the patient cannot give it due to a deteriorated condition, family member can sign the consent in his or her place."

Radoslav Matěj,  Robert Rusina | Photo: Ondřej Vaňura,  Czech Radio

At the moment, the relatively small room holds dozens of samples of brain tissue from patients who have died from neurological diseases, such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson's. In the future, researchers hope to collect thousands of them.

However, the brain bank will not serve only as a deposit of brain samples, but mainly as a research institution, says Mr. Rusina:

"The main aim of the brain bank is to support research. Many drugs would not have been developed without research and without the possibilities offered by the brain bank. It is a hope for patients.”

A number of brain banks are already operating around the world, with the closest one being in Munich. Researchers hope that the newly opened facility in Prague will soon start to cooperate with the European network of brain banks. Robert Rusina again:

Photo: Ondřej Vaňura,  Czech Radio

“The way the international network works is that if we have an interesting scientific project and we need more samples, we can approach other banks for samples. In the same way, other banks can approach us."

Prior to the opening of the first Czech brain bank, experts from the neurology and neuropathology clinics at the Thomayer hospital in Prague had already been working on several long-term research projects focused on neurodegenerative diseases. The new facility, they say, will hopefully increase their chances of finding a cure.