Thursday, December 4, 2014

Brain Drain

Here's an intriguing report about a bizarre theft that has occurred at the University of Texas at Austin. When this story first hit the news on Tuesday, it was being reported that 100 brains had disappeared from the basement of the university's Animal Resources Center.  Among these organs, according to initial reports, was the brain of the infamous sniper Charles Whitman (a former U.S. Marine responsible for murdering 16 people and wounding 32 others during a shooting spree that took place on the campus of the University of Texas in 1966).  According to the co-curators of the collection, Prof. Lawrence Cormack and Prof. Tim Schallert, the formaldehyde-preserved brains had disappeared without a trace.  As of Wednesday afternoon, however, this story changed abruptly. Here's the new spin coming out of UT Austin….

Below are excerpts from Rick Jervis and Doug Stanglin's 12-13-14 USA Today article entitled "Mystery of Missing University of Texas Brains Solved":

AUSTIN -- The mystery of the missing brains at the University of Texas appeared solved Wednesday afternoon.
UT officials released a statement saying the 100 brains believed missing from a neuroscience lab were actually destroyed in 2002 as part of routine disposal of biological waste.
"We believe the workers disposed of between 40 and 60 jars, some of which contained multiple human brains, and worked with a biological waste contractor to do so safely," the statement read. 
University officials also denied earlier claims that the missing brains had surfaced at another university and said they had "no evidence" that one of the missing brains belonged to Charles Whitman, the infamous UT campus sniper, "though we will continue to investigate those reports."
The missing organs, which represent about half of the university's original collection, had been stored in jars of formaldehyde in a closet in the university's Animal Resources Center, where studies of human brains also occur, prior to the building's renovation, it said.
The brains have been used by neuroscience students to study everything from Huntington's disease to Parkinson's disease, depression, strokes and other disorders.
The Animal Resources Center originally got the organs in 1986 from the Austin State Hospital, formerly known as the Texas State Lunatic Asylum, under a "temporary possession" agreement.

The specimens were assembled by Dr. Coleman de Chenar, a resident pathologist at ASH. They were taken from deceased patients at the hospital from the 1950s through the 1970s, when surgical lobotomies and electroshock therapy were common [...].

As for the missing organs, the university said in a statement that it will investigate "the circumstances surrounding this collection since it came here nearly 30 years ago" and is "committed to treating the brain specimens with respect." It says the remaining brain specimens on campus are used "as a teaching tool and carefully curated by faculty."
The 100 remaining brains at the school have been moved to the Norman Hackerman Building, where they are being scanned with high-resolution resonance imaging equipment.

To read Jervis and Stanglin's entire article, click HERE.

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