Notorious

Notorious gangland killer, Carl Williams bashed to death in prison. Credit: Richard Cisar Wright

According to researchers, the brain of notorious gangland killer Carl Williams which has been donated to science, may not likely offer any insight into his behaviour.

Carl Williams was bashed to death in prison last week and Roberta Williams hopes analysis of his brain can bring insight into the violent behaviour, of Australia's worst killer.

Professor Brian Dean, brain researcher of the Mental Health Research Institute, in Melbourne however said examination of brains has a contentious history.

The analysis of the grey matter to find out what makes the famous and the infamous tick has not always offered any real answers, said Prof Dean.

Einstein's brain was dissected and I believe it was distributed to a number of sites around the world.

And they were actually trying to find out what particular brain you needed to be a genius, said Prof Dean.

To my knowledge (the discovered) nothing at all.

You might postulate for example that violence in men is due to a change in a particular brain structure or gene within a brain, but frankly, I'm not aware of any work that's really supporting that notion at the moment.

On the other hand, brain research particularly in the genetics branch is offering more details on a range of neurological conditions of bipolar disorders and schizophrenia, said Prof Dean.

For example, a discovery we've made very recently is that 25 per cent of people with schizophrenia have lost 75 per cent of a molecule in the brain called the muscarinic receptor, he explained.

We think that's involved in the cognitive deficits associated with the disease - their ability to think on a day-to-day basis.

In the brains of people with depression, we've actually found that pathways oddly enough linked to inflammation seem to be greatly changed in the brains of people with depression.

Much of research studying personality and criminality is being performed overseas through the use of brain imaging on people who are alive, said Prof Dean.

Professor Catriona McLean, director of the Australian Brain Bank Network, a national research group that uses donated brain for medical research, said most donated brains come from patients with Parkinson's disease or dementia.

Specifically the dementia and Parkinson's disease have specific features that you can look for macroscopically, which means when you look at the brain with your naked eye and also microscopically, she said.

Every of those disease processes can be fragmented into different subtypes, and we look also at specific things that fit into each of the subtypes to make a diagnosis.

While his organization has not received Carl Williams' brains, Prof McLean said she would not expect to find anything unusual about it.

If there's no clinical history of memory loss or features suggestive of underlying neurologic disorder or Parkinson's disease, it's likely that the underlying macroscopic and microscopic examination of the brain will be normal, he said.