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A Decade After Death Patient HM Inspires Plans For Brain Museum In Downtown San Diego

December 4, 2018 1:35 p.m.

A Decade After Death Patient HM Inspires Plans For Brain Museum In Downtown San Diego


Jacopo Annese, director, the Brain Observatory

Related Story: A Decade After Death Patient HM Inspires Plans For Brain Museum In Downtown San Diego


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

You may remember an extraordinary event that involved the brain of patient H M after his death ten years ago. Patient H.M. identified after death as Henry Molaison was the most studied brain patient ever. As a young man Molaison underwent surgery that left him unable to form new memories. Here he is speaking to a researcher at MIT.

In 1992 when a man at MIT.

What do you do during a typical day. Well I don't I don't read numbers. You know what you did yesterday. No I don't. How about warning number.

Now in order to closely examine HM brain a neurosurgical team at UC San Diego led by Dr. Jacopo Annese cut the patients frozen brain into more than 2000 slices. Millions of people watched as the dissection was streamed live online. That whole experience has given Dr Nelson a new mission to open up the research doors and let the public experience the latest in brain science. Joining me is Dr. Jacobo naysay director of the brain Observatory in San Diego. Doctor welcome to the program. Thank you. Good morning. Now when you were performing this procedure on HMS brain did you think it would create the amount of interest that it did.

Well I always thought that the the work that we were doing at the lab was actually beautiful. I apologize for this nonsense. If you term this process of dissecting and looking at brain anatomy and brain morphology I really thought there was a lot of beauty in this work and I thought that people would be interested to see it and we wanted to share it. Another reason for sharing that procedure was also because it was the first time that a whole human brain was dissected in that way. So I thought that for sake of scrutiny we wanted to open the lab and make sure that everybody could see what we were doing.

And not do it in close doors and then maybe try to patch up the mistakes if you're a man. We want it to be very honest with with our with our work and how much interested it generate. Somebody called it the moon landing of neuroscience because imagine this scenario you know we were in a lab somewhere in San Diego and people from all over the world were watching and it was really like watching a astronauts on the space station. I think for people through their screen and it was interesting to see for example the Twitter feed that was coming in from different countries as the time zones would shift because I went a bit like the Duracell Bunny I kept I kept slicing Ben-Haim for 53 hours straight without sleeping.

And so you know we captured several you know Dong's and sunsets in many different countries through the procedure. And it was really a magical moment to see there was so much participation and that really changed something in my in my perspective as as a researcher.

Now remind us why you chose to cut the brain in this way. What did you hope to discover.

Well the one of the lessons learnt was from Einstein's brain what happened to Einstein's brain. So I had that as a as an example of a way in which you know eventually research was precluded because the typical way of doing a post-mortem examination of the brain is to sample a few pieces and to do a very sparse exam Einstein's bearing was was cut into many many little blocks. I mean I think if 200 blocks and this blocks eventually got lost or got it got examined by different labs and I thought that for a cham whose brain was at least as important as Einstein's at least medically and in terms of research about memory was definitely very important.

I think we wanted to try to maintain a centralized database that then researchers worldwide could use for research which is really the basis of the larger project the brain bank that I that I now you know sort of manage which not doesn't have only HRN but has many many other brains from ordinary and extraordinary individuals.

I want to talk about that leap that you made after you knew how much interest there was in this particular procedure on H.M.S. brain and how much the general public really was interested in brain science. What did that make you want to do.

What I got from that as a as a lesson is that there shouldn't be really any filtering between research and the public can. And what I realized is that a lot of the mistrust in science that we are so here today is because people are not used to to understand what what researchers do and I mean the good the bad and the ugly of research because there are there are still problems in the way that research is conducted. And I think if the public had an opportunity to participate in this dialogue they could probably also give some some good input.

And now Dr you're exploring the concept of a storefront laboratory in San Diego. Tell us about the brain museum that you're hoping to open.

We want to have the public experience science in the making in a real laboratory and use that context to also educate about neuroscience topic. And for me education doesn't mean teaching only education for me means literacy. So something that doesn't exist at this point in time is a science literacy that includes not only the subjects and the information and the knowledge but also as I mentioned before the process of science and I think if the public had if this literacy could be promoted also people would start thinking more critically about experiences because they could also see from the perspective of the brain perspective of us as a mindful organism and there's something about human beings that is special.

Of course that's why I like studying human brains and not the brains of mice.

When someone would enter this brain museum what do you hope that they would see and they would experience.

We want people to feel very welcome. I mean this place has to be very inclusive and open. We're looking at a way to create a sort of gradient where gradually you know ordinary citizens in San Diego can come in because there is an exhibition but begin to view. I call it the see through experience you can see through the space and look at researchers working in the lab. But I would like to go beyond simply passive viewing. I would like them to be gradually more and more involved in their research and this is a concept that's called citizen science the idea that two involve citizens who are not trained scientists in the process of science so how and how do we do that.

So I've had several interesting conversations with Dr. Snyder the director of the fleet about this concert. We're going to work together on this. How do we design this experience. There are several wonderful collaborators collaborations that I established in this outreach phase of the project including the Feed the Children museum and these are all things that we're going to work on together.

I've been speaking with Dr. Jacopo Annese and they say thank you so much for your time.

Thank you very much for having me.