When I received the email from the Scientific Committee that my abstract was accepted for Oral Communication, I was particularly delighted at this opportunity to share with my EFPT colleagues the scientific work I have been engaged in – and that has become a passion more than a job – over the last years. Scientific literature has recently recognized brain tissue as an underutilized substrate for the study of complex neuropsychiatric disorders, that can lead us to important insights unattainable through animal research or clinical studies. Indeed it has been precisely this problem of the difficult translation of preclinical findings from animal or cell culture models to the living patient that has been one of the main reasons why it is has been proving so much harder to take big scientific leaps in the field of neuropsychiatry compared to other fields of research. Hence the major value of brain tissue from psychiatric patients, both rare to acquire and extremely informative. This has been especially true in my study of the role of neuroinflammation in schizophrenia.
Microglia, the resident immune cells of the brain, are the most dynamic cells in our central nervous system: ubiquitous, always on the move, and quick to transform from ramified cells with long processes that scout the surrounding brain area to macrophage-like phagocytic blobs. Scientists give these cells many pet names, including ‘housekeepers’, ‘gardeners’ and ‘garbage men’, but I personally think they are mostly very mysterious cells, elusively doing their work behind the blood-brain barrier. Anyone who has heard me speak about this topic has told me that my enthusiasm and love for these cells is almost contagious, and I hope that those who were present in Porto felt the same way. I really enjoyed the contact with the audience and the questions and feedback that showed that others too had been captivated by the marvellous world of microglia and brain tissue research. Therefore now that much to my and everyone’s regret the London Corsellis Collection Brain Bank has closed down, winning the Best Oral Communication Award was also a tribute to the patients and staff who helped us achieve our goals by contributing to this project.
My take-home message is therefore that neuropsychiatric brain banks are worth investing in, and even if you are not a researcher, you can still help by donating your brain to science!
Livia De Picker
University of Antwerp, Belgium