The discovery of 10,000 brains has sent shockwaves through the medical and scientific community, who are now desperately trying to unlock the mysteries held within. Little is known about how or why this event occurred, however the scientific potential of such a find is immense.
It was something of a rumor in Denmark. But this news with sinister overtones became a reality. The discovery of 10,000 brains at a university in the city of Odense caught the attention of the press. How did this happen?
It started in 1945, at the end of World War II. Erik Strömgren was an eminent psychiatrist. He developed a project that would allow him to study the causes of mental illness in thousands of patients.
By that time, autopsies on psychiatric patients were practiced routinely and without much research. But physician Strömgren came up with an idea. Extract brains from cadavers and preserve them to search for the causes of schizophrenia, dementia, depression and bipolarity.
There was no law restricting the use of brains. In Denmark, patients diagnosed with mental illness had to obtain special permission to marry. This was abolished in 1989.
Without the consent of the deceased or their families, a total of 9,479 brains were extracted. It is the largest collection in the world. They were preserved in white containers with formalin. Thomas Erslev is a historian of medical science and research consultant at Aarhus University. He said that almost half of the psychiatric patients who died after World War II were ‘stripped’ of their brains.
Jesper Vaczy Kragh, a psychiatric historian, explained the details of the project. “It was experimental research. They thought they could discover something about the location of mental illness,” he explained.
In 1982, the European country decided to put an end to this type of practice. The issue was the epicenter of debate due to the desecration of corpses that was carried out for four decades. The lack of funding and the forgetfulness of the project was key for the secret to come to light. In 2018 they contacted pathologist Martin Wirenfeldt Nielsen to offer him the collection.
“The first time I heard about its magnitude was when they decided to move it here. I asked myself: how can you move almost 10,000 brains?” he explained. They were transported in white buckets, and identified with a number made with black marker.
The finding of 10,000 brains is also a possible opportunity for study. They could be keys to know more about neurological and mental pathologies.