RE “Freezer failure at brain bank hampers autism research” (Page A1, June 11): Human brain tissue is critical to research efforts aimed at treating or preventing brain developmental, psychiatric, and neurodegenerative disorders. The recent freezer failure at the Harvard Brain Tissue Resource Center that reportedly compromised about 150 human brains highlights the impact that even rare incidents at human tissue repositories can have. If such a devastating outcome can occur at this longstanding and internationally preeminent center, it can happen anywhere.
Despite this peril and our obligations to the donors and their families, standards for the operation of human tissue repositories are nonexistent. Commissioning the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences to remediate this deficiency seems warranted.
In addition to tissues, the resulting guidelines should apply to other commonly banked human specimens, such as blood, cells and cell lines, and DNA. The responsibility of funding agencies should also be clarified as it pertains to the disposition of human tissue repositories when funding lapses.
The success of this initiative will be limited unless public and private funding agencies require compliance with the resulting guidelines. Trust, but verify.