NAMI
National Alliance on Mental Illness
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©2014
 

Singin' For the Brain

Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor is a Harvard-trained and published neuroanatomist who teaches at the Indiana University School of Medicine. But she may be better known as the "Singin' Scientist." For years, she has traveled the country, guitar in hand, to encourage people to donate their brains to science. Now she is building a network of Brain Bank Champions within NAMI, and she's asking for a deposit from you.

At the NAMI national convention in 2006, Taylor (NAMI National Board ’94-’97) spoke during the research plenary meeting and invited NAMI state presidents and executive directors to identify NAMI advocates in their states who would act as "Brain Bank Champions" for the Harvard Brain Tissue Resource Center.

Taylor grew up wanting to study the brain in part because she has a brother diagnosed with schizophrenia. At the plenary, with guitar in hand, she declared, “There is no question that if there were more psychiatrically diagnosed brain tissue donated for research, more research into our illnesses would be going on.”

At the NAMI national convention in 2007, over 40 people attended a workshop titled, “Building a Brain Bank Network in NAMI.” Each of these “Brain Bank Champions” has agreed to act as the Harvard Brain Bank representative in their state or area. Some of the larger states, including California, may need numerous Champions to participate in the program.

Two of the greatest myths about brain banking include:

  • Myth: there is plenty of tissue donated for research into the severe mental illnesses. In fact, only 25 to 35 psychiatrically diagnosed brains per year are donated to the Harvard Brain Bank for this type of research. For the past 20 years, Dr. Taylor reports, there has been a shortage of bipolar and schizophrenia tissue donated.
  • Myth: when you sign the back of your driver’s license as an organ donor, you are also signed up as a brain donor. This is not true. The license bureaus program is a transplantation program, and because this program does not involve transplanting brains, the brain is excluded from the list of eligible organs.

In order to be a brain donor, at the time of death (or impending death) someone must call the brain bank directly. Although the brain bank prefers that people pre-register as card-carrying brain donors, last-minute donations can be accomplished by having someone call 1 (800) BRAINBANK.

Each Brain Bank Champion will be trained about the value of brain donation by Dr. Taylor. Some of their responsibilities may include exhibiting and distributing brain bank materials and brochures at their annual state conference exhibit booths as well as at their local NAMIWalks.

The brain bank provides brain donation information, brochures, magnets, pens, bumper stickers, "squeezy brains," and other promotional items for distribution at these events. In addition, each Champion receives a copy of the Harvard Brain Bank DVD, and a slide presentation designed for easy viewing by individuals, local affiliate meetings, or gatherings of other interested parties: for example, a hospice.

Dr. Jill also plans on providing the network of Brain Bank Champions with articles and advertisements that state and local affiliates can publish in their newsletters or place on NAMI Web sites. Finally, Brain Bank Champions can coordinate the distribution of brain donation information for use during week four of the Family-to-Family program.

Anyone wishing to become a Brain Bank Champion should contact Jill Bolte Taylor at drjill@drjilltaylor.com or at (812) 335-0459. Working together with scientists, Champions can help unravel the biological mysteries of brain disorders. She can also be contacted for an impromptu performance of her song, "1 (800) Brain Bank," appearing here.

 

1(800) Brain Bank!

by Jill Bolte Taylor, Ph.D. ("The Singin’ Scientist")

 

Oh I am a brain banker,

Bankin’ brains is what I do,

Oh I am a brain banker,

Asking for a deposit from you!

 

Don’t worry, I’m in no hurry!

 

Have you considered the contribution you can make,

When you are heaven bound, your brain can hang around,

To help humanity find the key to unlock this thing we call insanity

Just dial 1-800-BRAINBANK for information please,

Educate then donate, it’s free!

 

Oh I am a brain banker,

Bankin’ brains is what I do,

Oh I am a brain banker,

Asking for a deposit from you!

 

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