BELMONT (CBS) – Up to 54 brain samples for the study of autism, a collection built up over 20 years, has been compromised by a faulty freezer.
And while it sounds like something out of mystery novel, this news is very sad for families living with autism and hoping for a cure.
Four-year-old Alexei LePoer drowned in his Westborough apartment complex pool on Mother’s Day last month. The little boy with autism slipped away while no one was looking.
His father is tormented by the memory.
“The police found him. It was horrible. You cannot imagine how painful that is,” said Christopher LePoer, Alexei’s father.
Despite their pain, LePoer’s parents donated the child’s brain to the HBTRC. The boy’s brain was not part of the freezer malfunction, but his father is troubled by the lost research.
“It is terrible… We need to find answers to this problem,” said LePoer.
Video from the brain bank’s website shows some of the ongoing research for the study of diseases like autism, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.
For some unknown reason, one particular freezer holding 54 brains for the study of autism mysteriously shut down and two back up alarm systems failed as well, ruining tissue samples and compromising research.
Dr. Francine Benes, the director of the program, told WBZ-TV how she first learned of the freezer failure from a frantic researcher.
“He was completely out of breath. He was shaking. He was tremulous. I had never seen him like that and he could barely speak. I said ‘George what is wrong?’ He said, ‘the autism collection.’ He said, ‘it is gone’ and I shot up from desk,” said Dr. Benes.
McLean Hospital has hired private investigators to search for answers.
“This is a disastrous event…but not completely so…because we do have other autism tissue,” said Dr. Benes.
These particular brains are not usually in the same freezer. They had been moved to this one freezer because some researchers were in town and McLean did not want to keep opening multiple freezers.
Those samples were scheduled to be moved back to their proper freezers when the discovery was made.
Workers with the HBTRC also completed a full inspection of all of the bank’s equipment as a precaution.
“The HBTRC is deeply committed to protecting and caring for the more than 3,000 samples it maintains,” the bank said in a statement.
The HBTRC is the oldest federally funded brain bank in the country.
Anyone concerned whether their family member’s donation to the bank was affected in the freezer failure is asked to call 1-877-733-4634.
WBZ-TV’s Joe Shortsleeve contributed to this report.