147 Brains Thaw Near Boston, Putting the Freeze on Research

Jul 19, 2012

Thoughts of brain freeze may conjure images of ice cream cones and sweltering summer days. In research hospitals the image is different. There, special freezers preserve deep frozen brain tissues at -80°C for use in autism, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and other research throughout the world.

Only a few brain banks exist, and Harvard-affiliated McLean Hospital in Belmont, Massachusetts is the world’s largest, with approximately 7,000 brains. Unfortunately, 147 brains of those brains thawed last May when a freezer malfunctioned. The freezer alarms also failed, allowing the -80°C temperature to reach to a relatively balmy 7°C before anyone opened the freezer and realized what was happening. By then, it was too late.

It didn’t have to be that way. A simple temperature monitor placed inside the freezer could have alerted personnel wirelessly as the temperature rose. Some temperature recorders, for example, support wireless alerts for temperature excursions and record multiple temperature thresholds at set intervals for months to years. Such a monitor would have created redundancy and could have alerted personnel wirelessly, significantly minimizing the problem.

Although monitoring capabilities and temperatures vary by manufacturer, even monitors set above the -80°C of the freezer could have value.  For example, sensors triggered at -20°C is still well below freezing. Had the malfunction been noticed at that temperature, it is likely that many if not all of the brains could have been saved, maintaining much of their research functionality.

The personnel at McLean Hospital logically thought their brain bank was protected.  The odds that a freezer and its alarms would malfunction simultaneously were virtually non-existent. Yet, it happened.

Murphy’s Law says that if anything can go wrong, it will. McLean’s thawed brains exemplify a corollary – “left to themselves, things tend to go from bad to worse.”

ShockWatch believes environmental monitors can circumvent the corollary. Rather than leaving things to themselves, turn to ShockWatch for a complete portfolio of environmental monitoring solutions and catch temperature excursions early.