During a two-year project starting on Wednesday, a group of researchers are to collect healthy and diseased tissue samples that will help them study drug abuse, epilepsy, severe asthma, cot death and suicide and other conditions.

"We want to investigate the causes of sudden death itself," Professor Jeanne Bell of Edinburgh's Western General Hospital, who is leading the project, told a press conference on Tuesday. "This provides us with an opportunity to look at the full life-cycle of diseases."
   
Funded by Britain's Medical Research Council, the team hopes to take samples from up to 1000 post-mortems conducted every year in Edinburgh. The tissues will be stored at the Western General Hospital and made available to scientists around the world.
   
Samples will not be limited to one illness or age group, as with some other tissue banks, Bell said. The primary aim is to collect brain samples but other organs could also be stored. 
   
Autopsy decline

James Underwood, president of the Royal College of Pathologists, told the press conference that the dwindling number of autopsies conducted in Britain could hamper research efforts.
   
"Around 50% of all deaths in hospital had a post-mortem in 1960. It is less than 5% right now," he explained.
   
"This is vital research to improve the health of people with these conditions."
   
Bell said the success of the tissue bank would depend on the number of relatives who consent to have samples taken, but that a pilot study had shown encouraging results.
   
"They are desperate for us to do the research. And we are desperate to do the research for them," she said.