(SAN DIEGO) -- Jacopo Annese is seeking 1,000 brains for the University of California San Diego Brain Observatory, but first, he's getting to know some of his future donors while they're still living.
Annese, a neuroanatomist, takes a humanistic approach to exploring how our brains make us the people we are. By using MRIs to study healthy and diseased brains in the living, and after their deaths, digitally scanning ultra-thin slices of their brains for 3-D models, he hopes to elucidate the relationship between brain structure and personality, memory, emotion and of course, illness.
So far, he's collected brains from 25 deceased men and women, many of whom he's "met" through life stories and medical histories gathered from their friends and relatives. He said he's found the extraordinary in ordinary people's lives.
Among the people he's come to know posthumously: a 50-year-old painter of horse portraits who succumbed to a heart condition and a 56-year-old woman whose sister painstakingly documented the five years before she died of early-onset Alzheimer's disease.
Like a politician cultivating campaign contributors, Annese, a native of Florence, Italy, also cultivates relationships to assure the future of the project for which he hopes to obtain 1,000 brains by 2020. His ideal donor list would include prominent people whose behavior and personality already have been chronicled.
After recently suggesting to Bloomberg News that real estate mogul Donald Trump would be an ideal donor, Annese later said he regretted putting Trump "on the spot." He said he never tries to convince someone to donate, preferring instead that potential donors seek him out.
Annese said his brain bank could be "a Library of Congress for the human brain," where he's the curator, assuring "everything is well-curated and accessible."
As of Monday, a dozen people had signed up to donate upon their deaths; the lab was continuing to field inquiries.
Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio