MONTREAL - Every day in a Montreal laboratory scientists reach into freezers, make a careful selection, and pull a human brain out of cold storage.

What may be gruesome to the average person is routine for the researchers at the Douglas Mental Health Institute, where thousands of brains are kept on ice, waiting to become the subject of research into mental illness and neurological disorders.

That research is overseen by Dr. Naguib Mechawar. who is passionate about finding cures for mental illness.

"At the Douglas in the past 30 years there have been many breakthroughs that have been made because of brain donations," said Dr. Mechawar.

Three decades of research

The Brain Bank was created in 1980 and has close to 3,000 brains in storage, all donated by people with an interest in battling mental illness.

Researchers have used the brains to help discover a gene linked to Alzheimer's Disease, and do cutting edge work on depression and suicide prevention.

"Some samples we've had since the early '80s when the brain bank was created," said Dr. Mechawar.

Comparing healthy brains to diseased ones is painstaking work, and getting people to donate their brains isn't easy either, but that is exactly what Manon-Lucie Sirois has agreed to do after her death.

Two of her aunts had Alzheimer's so taking a few minutes to sign a consent form was an easy choice.

"It's the highway for the researcher to find maybe a solution," said Sirois.

The president of the Douglas Mental Health Institute says when someone donates their brain it comes with their medical history, which is precious information for researchers looking to identify the one in five Canadians at risk of mental illness.

"When you go to the doctor today you use markers in your blood to identify if you're at risk of heart disease and then you're given a course of medication. We'd like to do the same for mental illness," said Jane Lalonde.

Bell Canada donating $2 million

Mental health research receives a small portion of federal funding compared with other illnesses.

That's one reason that CTV's parent company, Bell Canada, is donating $2 million to the Douglas Mental Health Institute.

The funding will go toward a research fellowship, upgrading technology, and improving laboratories and storage facilities.

Improved technology to make unlocking the secrets of the human brain a little easier.