My interview with NPR science reporter Jon Hamilton aired today after a six month wait. The list of media exposure and mentions continues to grow for me and that's gratifying. Apparently, for some strange reason, it didn't air on KCRW, the local NPR station in Los Angeles. At least as of 8:55, so I just gave up and listened to it online. It did air in some other parts of the country and I've already received a few emails about it and comments on my facebook page. I discussed my decision to will my brain to Autism Speaks autism tissue program and my desire for my brain to be used to elucidate on the etiology of autism and perhaps even help find a cure.
Of course, I'm hoping I have at least another twenty-three years of life (to age eighty or older) and I'm not sure how useful the postmortem brain of someone with advanced age would be. As Hamilton said in the piece, researchers are more interested in obtaining postmortem brains of very young children (perhaps aged 3 or less) because the brain continues to develop up until adulthood. Therefore, the key to understanding the neurophysiology of autism spectrum disorders is to find out what happened at the earliest stage of life possible, since the evidence (at least from what I understand) indicates that autism is a prenatal condition and whatever happens, i.e. abnormal migration of neurons, etc., happens in utero, so the best postmortem brains come from the youngest children possible. These samples are in short supply as obviously there is a dearth of brains from deceased 3 year olds with autism. There are young autistic children who die in accidental drownings or get run over in traffic accidents because they are too impaired to understand danger, and I guess young autistic brains are obtained in this fashion, as unfortunate as these events are. (No, I'm not saying I'm happy about small autistic children dying so we can have more postmortem brain tissue). I realize my friend, Jake Crosby (and others who believe that vaccines cause autism) will dispute this. For that reason, even if I were to drop dead the day after tomorrow at the age of fifty-seven, my brain might not be terribly useful in contributing to any sort of scientific understanding.
One issue that the piece did not mention was my disillusionment with autism speaks and my having second thoughts about my decision to donate my brain to them. It was several years ago that I met a representative from autism speaks' tissue program at an autism conference and filled out the paperwork for donating my brain. Since then Autism Speaks has done a variety of things that I don't like. I've written about these issues elsewhere in case anyone is interested.
I may just go ahead and donate my brain to Autism speaks tissue program in spite of these things. Of course, I'm not sure what I've done with the paperwork as I recently moved and my problems have made me rather disorganized.
I also wonder if there is an amount of time that an autistic brain can be removed from the head and put in formalin or a freezer for it to be useful in research. My sister, Melanie, will most likely outlive me and I guess I'll have to discuss with her the mechanics of getting my brain to the scientists. She lives in Oregon, about a thousand miles away from me so the logistics of getting my brain someplace where it could be useful for scientific research may not be feasible. I guess I may discuss this with Melanie the next time I see her.
In the meantime, I hope that someday science will advance to the point where we'll have something that will help or even cure autistic people of their disability.