British Columbia·Photos

Vancouverites clamour to hold human brains

If you've ever wanted to hold a human brain in your hands, the Vancouver Convention Centre was the place to be on Friday, as neuroscientists invited the public to learn about brains.

People snapped selfies with human brains and learned about neuroscience at the Brain Health Fair

People eagerly lined up to handle human brains at the Brain Health Fair in Vancouver on Friday. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

If you have ever wanted to hold a human brain in your hands, the Vancouver Convention Centre was the place to be on Friday, as neurologists invited the public to learn about brains.

The most popular exhibit was put on by Dr. Russ Buono, aka Dr. Brain Dude, who teaches neuroanatomy at Cooper Medical School of Rowan University in New Jersey. 

People were invited to hold a human brain and quickly learn a thing or two about them, while the crowd clamoured behind them for a turn.

"We'll be busy all day with people holding brains," said Buono.

"For many years, only medical students or dental students were able to touch real human brains, and 20 years ago I asked the question, why?" he said. "We began bringing brains out into the community and the response has been amazing."

"It's heavier than you'd think it'd be and more slimy," said Adriana McKinnon, 15. "In science I actually held a sheep's heart once, and I thought it would be similar to that, but it was actually much different."

"It’s an experience you’ll never forget," says Adriana McKinnon, 15, after holding a human brain. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

"It creeped me out," said eight-year-old Kallie Demosten. "I held the brain and it was pretty weird, but it was kind of smooth ... and kind of bumpy."

Madeline Sloan came to the fair because she's been interested in neuroscience ever since she suffered a stroke when she was 23. 

Madeline Sloan has been especially interested in neurology since she suffered a stroke when she was 23 years old. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

"I had a lot of problems with my cerebral vestibular systems, so I had a lack of control of balance, and I had to relearn how to walk and I had some speech issues," she said. "I've learned a lot about the brain, but it was definitely cool to hold it."

"Getting to look at a real human brain, like, even if it grosses you out it's still a really cool experience," said Grade 12 student Juliana MacLeod. "I got a selfie. I've got to put that on Instagram."

Dr. Russ Buono, aka Dr. Brain Dude, holds one of the human brains he takes from place to place to show people. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

Buono is clearly very passionate about grey matter. He was able to continue talking brains non-stop as the organs were passed from person to person.

"One brain on the table today has been out of its owner for over 15 years. It's been held by more than 30,000 people. So that's an incredible gift," he said, noting that the donors are anonymous, and usually died of natural causes in their 70s or 80s. 

Madeleine Mertl, who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1977, takes a tour through an inflatable brain at the Brain Health Fair in Vancouver on Friday. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

The fair also had other brain demonstrations and exhibits, including a selection of animal brains in jars to compare.

There was an inflatable brain to walk through to learn about the different parts, and basketball hoops set up to teach about how exercise can help keep a brain healthy.

There were also "ask a neurologist" booths set up so people could have their cerebral questions answered by an expert.

Jon Stoessl, head of neurology at UBC, says to keep your brain healthy, "Listen to your mother: exercise, eat well and get lots of sleep." (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

Jon Stoessl, head of neurology at the University of British Columbia, was manning one booth. 

"Our own view is that the rest of the body exists in order to service the brain," he said of the neurologists, 13,000 of whom are attending the American Academy of Neurology's 68th annual meeting at the convention centre.

"Brain diseases, actually, are responsible for 40 per cent of all disability, except for communicable disorders, so that's more than cancer and heart disease combined," said Stoessl. "That is the single most important source of disability for people."

He was happy to see the public filling up the fair and taking an interest in the human brain.

"I though it’d be more pink, but it was brown, and it was really neat," said Grade 12 student Juliana MacLeod of the human brain. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

"In addition to, you know, wanting to look at ways we can help disease, there's an underlying fascination with the normal function of the brain, and that continues to amaze us all."

Stoessl's advice for keeping your brain healthy?

"Listen to your mother: exercise, eat well, and get lots of sleep."


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