updated 6/11/2012 11:09:08 AM ET 2012-06-11T15:09:08

Scientists say a freezer malfunction at a Boston-area hospital has damaged one-third of the world's largest collection of autism brain samples.

The Boston Globe reports that an official at Harvard-affiliated McLean Hospital in Belmont discovered the freezer had failed in late May without triggering alarms. Inside, 150 thawed brains had turned dark from decay. About a third were part of a collection of autism brains.

Dr. Francine Benes, director of the Harvard Brain Tissue Resource Center, says it was "a priceless collection."

The collection is owned by the advocacy and research organization Autism Speaks. A spokeswoman says parts of some of the damaged brains were stored elsewhere and some of the damaged tissue had already been used in studies. She says the impact on future research is unclear.

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