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Was it really Alzheimer’s disease? This is the most important question that the Neuropathology Core addresses upon the death of a research volunteer for the children and grandchildren who are concerned about developing dementia. During an autopsy of the donated brain, the neuropathologist examines the diseased tissue, looking for the hallmark signs of Alzheimer’s disease – senile plaques and neurofibrillary tangles – as well as other pathological changes that may have contributed to the clinical symptoms. Today, neuropathological examination of the brain remains the only way to make a definitive diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease or another dementia.
In addition to providing families with a “final answer,” brain donation enables scientists to conduct innumerable studies that explore the variety of neuropathological changes that occur during the transition from normal aging to MCI and subsequently Alzheimer’s disease or another dementia, and the relationship of those changes to the cognitive, functional, and behavioral symptoms present in life. Other biological specimens (e.g., plasma, serum, cerebrospinal fluid) donated by our research volunteers while alive are, for example, being used to investigate potential biomarkers for Alzheimer’s disease. Accurate biomarkers would enable scientists and ultimately clinicians to identify Alzheimer’s disease in its preclinical state, years before symptoms are evident, and initiate treatment earlier. Overall, efforts of the Neuropathology Core, led by Drs. David Cribbs and Ron Kim, are directed at uncovering the cellular and molecular mechanisms underlying Alzheimer’s disease.
All brain tissue and other biological specimens are stored in the ADRC’s Tissue Repository, which is managed by the Neuropathology Core. Additionally, the Neuropathology Core is responsible for distributing tissue and other biological specimens to researchers and promoting cross-center collaborations to maximize use of these precious samples. Every ADRC clinician and investigator involved in handling brain tissue and biological specimens does so with great care, highly aware of the invaluable gift our research volunteers are making.