Peru brain mu­seum puts com­plex or­gan on dis­play ‘Women’s brains are more evolved than men’s’

Kuwait Times - - HEALTH & SCIENCE -

LIMA:

It pow­ers ev­ery­thing we do, yet re­mains one of our big­gest mys­ter­ies. But thanks to an un­usual Peru­vian mu­seum ded­i­cated en­tirely to the brain, vis­i­tors can get up close and per­sonal with the most com­plex or­gan in the hu­man body. The “brain li­brary” at the Santo Toribio de Mogrovejo Hos­pi­tal in Lima has a mas­sive col­lec­tion of dis­eased and healthy brains, giv­ing re­searchers and also the gen­eral pub­lic a glimpse of what is go­ing on inside our heads. It is the only mu­seum in Latin Amer­ica, and one of the few in the world, with a large col­lec­tion of brains that is reg­u­larly open to the pub­lic.

The hos­pi­tal, which was founded more than three cen­turies ago, has a to­tal of 2,912 brains col­lected over the years, nearly 300 of which are on dis­play in a mind-open­ing ex­hibit. Some 20,000 peo­ple visit the mu­seum each year. “Touch a real skull,” the mu­seum in­vites them on ar­rival, prof­fer­ing a spec­i­men so vis­i­tors can feel the cra­nial bone struc­ture and imag­ine how it holds two square me­ters (22 square feet) of in­tri­cately folded brain mat­ter. The brains of this op­er­a­tion, so to speak, is neu­ropathol­o­gist Diana Ri­vas, who is hov­er­ing over an icy steel ta­ble choos­ing sci­en­tif­i­cally in­ter­est­ing spec­i­mens to add to the mu­seum’s col­lec­tion.

“This is where we do the au­top­sies. I han­dle them my­self,” she tells AFP, barely look­ing up from the brain she is hold­ing in her gloved hands. She has just re­moved this par­tic­u­lar spec­i­men from a jar of formalde­hyde. It is about the size of a de­flated foot­ball, and “has the con­sis­tency of a rub­ber eraser,” she says. She ex­am­ines the brain’s two hemi­spheres, which re­sem­ble giant wal­nuts, then care­fully re­moves the thin layer of three mem­branes that hold them to­gether, the meninges. Once open, the or­gan’s fas­ci­nat­ing ge­og­ra­phy is on full dis­play: a labyrinth of gray and white tis­sue that holds the mys­ter­ies of thought, lan­guage and vir­tu­ally ev­ery bod­ily func­tion inside.

Food for thought

Ri­vas gives a les­son as she dis­sects. “A hu­man brain weighs be­tween 1.2 and 2.4 ki­los (2 pounds 10 ounces and five pounds four ounces), de­pend­ing on the height and weight of the per­son, and on the sex,” she says. “Women’s are more evolved than men’s. What dif­fer­en­ti­ates us is the evo­lu­tion of lan­guage, which we use much more than men.” The mu­seum is di­vided into three parts: neu­roanatomy, birth de­fects and brain dam­age caused by dis­eases such as cancer, Alzheimer’s and the Zika virus.

“We show stu­dents what a healthy brain looks like, and then a sick brain, like this one with cys­ticer­co­sis, which causes con­vul­sions,” she says, point­ing to a brain stained with marks left by in­vad­ing tape­worms. The par­a­sites are present in pork and can also be trans­mit­ted when peo­ple fail to wash their hands prop­erly, she ex­plains. Of­fer­ing more food for thought, she points to an­other sick brain af­fected by ar­te­rioscle­ro­sis-the re­sult of eat­ing too much fatty food, which clogs the ar­ter­ies, in­clud­ing the ones feed­ing the brain.

“This is to re­mind us not to get car­ried away with the ham­burg­ers. It’s not good to abuse fatty foods,” she says, point­ing out the brain’s black­ened blood ves­sels. Speak­ing of food, she warns that vis­i­tors need a strong stom­ach for some parts of the ex­hibit, such as a dis­play on en­cephalo­cele. The fatal birth de­fect hap­pens when the “neu­ral tube” that be­comes the brain and spinal cord fails to de­velop nor­mally dur­ing preg­nancy, leav­ing the brain and the mem­branes around it hang­ing out through an open­ing in the baby’s skull. “Around five per­cent of stu­dents are afraid when they see it. Some faint, oth­ers vomit,” Ri­vas says mat­ter-of-factly. —AFP

LIMA: A glass con­tainer with a hu­man skull and brain im­mersed in formalde­hyde is dis­played at the “Mu­seum of Neu­ropathol­ogy” in Lima.

—AFP Pho­tos

LIMA: Three hu­man fe­tus pre­sent­ing dif­fer­ent brain patholo­gies is dis­played at the “Mu­seum of Neu­ropathol­ogy” in Lima.

LIMA: Doc­tor Diana Ri­vas opens a jar con­tain­ing a hu­man brain im­mersed in formalde­hyde at the “Mu­seum of Neu­ropathol­ogy” in Lima.

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