"Brainworks": With Phantom Skulls, Model Spines and Foam Heads, Middle School Students Will Practice Surgery, Suturing

Cedars-Sinai’s program seeks to encourage early interest in neuroscience 

Los Angeles - Feb. 9, 2011 – Brain surgery takes much more skill than properly placing sutures in a foam skull, but aspiring doctors have to start somewhere, as 140 seventh- and eighth-grade students will learn at the annual “Brainworks” event at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center on Friday, Feb. 18.    

Students will perform simulated brain surgery, examine sheep brains, and participate in an array of other activities during the program sponsored by the Cedars-Sinai Department of Neurosurgery, the Maxine Dunitz Neurosurgical Institute and West Coast Spine. It will run from 10 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. in Cedars-Sinai’s Harvey Morse Auditorium.      

Most of the participating students attend Johnnie L. Cochran Jr. Middle School in Los Angeles and Dana Middle School in San Pedro. They were selected by teachers, based on interest and achievement in science.    

The day’s schedule includes science-oriented games; individual, hands-on and group activities; presentations by research scientists; and visits to interactive areas such as:

  • A station with a surgical microscope, 3-D imaging and a phantom skull that gives participants a chance to perform virtual surgery.
  • A neuropathology station with slides showing what different kinds of brain tumor cells look like under a microscope.
  • A vital signs station where students will have their vital signs taken and learn how these measurements are used in patient treatment.
  • A surgical instruments station with actual tools used in the operating room.
  • Model spines for hands-on experience with spinal surgery instruments and techniques.
  • An advances in research station where students can perform DNA, tumor and laser experiments with scientists. The researchers will describe their progress with brain tumor vaccines, immunotherapy for Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases and methods of crossing the blood-brain barrier to fight tumors.
  • A rehabilitation station where students will learn how patients feel when undergoing therapy. They also will meet the hospital’s canine pet therapists.
  • An allied health professionals booth where students will learn about the many kinds of skills needed to staff a hospital and neuroscience center.

Neurosurgeon Keith L. Black, M.D., chairman of the Department of Neurosurgery and director of the Maxine Dunitz Neurosurgical Institute, will be the keynote speaker. He published his first research paper at age 17 and has written hundreds more.      

He started Brainworks in 1998 to give promising students an early introduction to the excitement and fulfillment of careers in science and medicine. His views on the importance of education and science are in keeping with remarks made by President Barack Obama’s in his recent State of the Union address.         

“Over the next 10 years, nearly half of all new jobs will require education that goes beyond a high school education. And yet, as many as a quarter of our students aren’t even finishing high school. The quality of our math and science education lags behind many other nations. America has fallen to ninth in the proportion of young people with a college degree,” said Obama, who in November 2009 launched the “Educate to Innovate” campaign for excellence in science, technology, engineering and math education.  

“If we take these steps—if we raise expectations for every child, and give them the best possible chance at an education, from the day they are born until the last job they take—we will reach the goal I set two years ago: By the end of the decade, America will once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world,” Obama said in his Jan. 25 address.

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