The collection of brains stored in buckets in the basement of the University of Southern Denmark in Odense amounted to 9,479 brains.
In the basement of the University of Southern Denmark, he stacked 9,479 brains, all of which were removed from the bodies of mentally ill patients over the course of 4 decades up to the 1980s. This collection is currently being used in 4 research projects.
According to Agence France-Presse, formalin was used to preserve this group of brains, which is believed to be the largest in the world. The collection was distributed in large white buckets bearing numbers.
Psychiatric history expert Jesper Vase Krag stated that the eminent Danish psychiatrist Erik Stromgren had collected them during his empirical research that he began in 1945.
At the time, Stromgren and his colleagues thought, “Maybe they can discover something about where mental illness is localized.” The brains were collected after an autopsy from psychiatric institutes across Denmark, and permission was not taken from the deceased or their families.
Half of the psychiatric patients who died between 1945 and 1982 had their brains collected without consent
According to a report published by CNN, Thomas Erslev, historian of medical sciences and research consultant at Aarhus University, estimates that half of the psychiatric patients who died in Denmark between 1945 and 1982 contributed – without knowledge and without consent – with their brains that were transformed into what It became known as the Institute for Brain Diseases associated with the Rhyskov Psychiatric Hospital in Aarhus, Denmark.
Lack of awareness about the rights of the mentally ill
“These were state mental hospitals and none of the people outside the hospital walls asked any questions about what was going on in those institutions,” Jesper Vasey Cragg said. Patients’ rights were not a concern at the time, and society at the time believed it needed protection from these people.
he law mandated sterilization of people in mental institutions between 1929 and 1967.
They had to obtain a special dispensation in order to allow them to marry until 1989. Denmark also considered the “mental patients” a burden on society and that they would cause all kinds of problems if they were released and allowed to have children and so on.
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The development of post-mortem procedures and a growing awareness of patients’ rights stopped adding more brains to the collection in 1982.
A long and heated debate ensued over what to do with them and the Danish State Ethics Board eventually decided that they should be preserved and used for scientific research.
And in 2018 the brains – which had long been housed in Aarhus in western Denmark – were transferred to the University of Southern Denmark in Odense.
In 2018, the brains that were located in Aarhus were transferred to the University of Southern Denmark in Odense (French).
A time capsule for brain diseases
Over the years, research on preserved brains has covered a wide range of diseases, including dementia, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and depression.
Pathologist Martin Wehrenfeldt Nielsen said the debate over the brain group had “radically ended, and people now see it as impressive scientific research and very useful in learning more about mental illness”.
What sets this collection apart from any other in the world is that the brains collected during the first decade were untouched by modern medicine, a time capsule of sorts for mental illness.
Now Susanna Aznar, a neurobiologist and expert on Parkinson’s disease who works at a research hospital in Copenhagen, is using the collection as part of her team’s research project.
“Those brains are unique in that they enable scientists to see the effects of modern therapies on those who are being treated with the treatments that we have now,” Aznar said.
It may be that the brains of present-day patients have changed due to the different treatments they have undergone, and therefore when we compare them with the group of brains Saved we will be able to see “whether these changes are related to the type of treatments,” according to Aznar.