Thursday 28 February 2013

The brain museum

This should be one of the most unusual museums in India and it is certainly the first in the country.
Though India has museums on history, geography, wildlife, geology and other sciences, it rarely has a museum dedicated solely to medical science. Bangalore has been lucky in having this one in a kind museum and it is worth a visit.
This is the brain museum and it is located in the premises of the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS), at its sprawling campus just off Hosur Road.
The museum displays over 600 samples of human brain and these samples are increasing year by year.
The museum was the brainchild of Dr S K Shankar, professor and head of department of neuropathology. It was set up after a long and painstaking effort involving close to 30 years of brain donations.
NIMHAS had to seek permission of the next of kin of the dead during autopsy to take parts of their brain for research. The research team later stumbled upon some fascinating revelations that are otherwise generally not revealed through MRI scans.
These brain samples were initially  for teaching students of neuropathology. Later, the idea of educating the public and making them aware of the fascinating aspects of the brain began germinatng and the result was the museum.
The first thing when you step into the vast hall is the many samples displayed in bottles and jars of formalin. Just imagine, these were the very brains that controlled human beings just a few years ago and now they are objects of research and display.
The brains here come in all sizes and shapes. There are brains of people who died a natural death and those who suffered head or brain injury. There are brains which were diagnosed with certain diseases.
The brain that suffered an injury in an accident is perhaps one of the most evocative. The person had suffered a memory loss and this can be verified by the fact that the fibres going to the frontal cortex or frontal lobe was disconnected.
The frontal lobes helps us to recognize future consequences resulting from current actions, to choose between good and bad actions (or better and best), override and suppress socially unacceptable responses, and determine similarities and differences between things or events.
They also help in retaining longer term memories which are not task-based. These are often memories associated with emotions derived from input from the brain's limbic functions. It modifies those emotions to generally fit socially acceptable norms.
A few brains here show traces of intracerebral haemorrage (ICH) and by the way this is the second most common cause for a stroke. In these cases, the haemorrage occurs within the brain tissue rather than outside, making treatment and even recovery that much more difficult.
The risk factors for ICH include: hypertension, diabetes, menopause, current cigarette smoking and alcoholic drinks (≥2/day)
Brains which have faced the problem of cerebral venous thrombosis (blood clot) are also displayed. This is a peculiar phenomenon in north Karnataka where pregnant women are not given enough fluids after delivery. The blood of such women thickens. The clot occurs in the dural venous sinuses, which drain blood from the brain.
Another reason for such clots is consanguineous marriages which are very common in Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Haryana. They lead to developmental anomalies of the brain.
There are also samples of brains which were the study for Schizophrenia. Though there is no external manifestation or malfunction, the size of the brain has shrunk, indicating a severe abnormality.
The brains of  people suffering from Alzheimer’s disease too have shrunk. The nerves had withered and it is really a scary sight.
Interestingly, there are brains which have suffered injuries and infections when ears of people were being cleaned with a sharp object such as a pin, pen, pencil or any long object. The infection from the ear quickly spread to the brain and in some cases, the damage was irreversible.
What makes this brain museum interesting is that it has brains of animals too. There are on display the brain of a rat and a duck. It details facts about the brain like anatomy, physiology, psychology, psychiatry, neurology and even neurosurgery.
A single brain can be preserved for twenty years and thus we see more brains coming in to the museum every year.   
The museum is operated by the Department of Neuropathology.
It is open on Saturdays from 10 a.m., to 3 p.m. If you would like to donate your brain, sign a pledge as donor.
The complete address is NIMHANS, Hosur Road, SR Krishnappa Garden, Hombegowda Nagar, Bengalore, Karnataka 560029. You cal also call 080 26995035 for more details.

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