BUSM Participates in Museum of Science’s Brain Health Fair
Between classes, studying, and clinical duties, the typical medical student doesn’t have a lot of free time. But instead of spending the weekend relaxing, a group of BUSM students spent their Friday and Saturday demonstrating neural pathways, explaining cognitive science, and being knocked repeatedly by reflex-hammer-wielding children, all in the name of science.
The annual Brain Health Fair took place at the Museum of Science on March 17-18. As part of an ongoing, multi-layered collaboration with the museum, Boston University School of Medicine presented several activity stations and talks at the fair.
This year, BU partnered with researchers from General Electric’s Global Research Center to help museum visitors explore the novel devices that GE is developing to enhance our knowledge of the brain and how it works. GE researchers created hands-on activities to make the science more accessible and trained BU medical students in the presentation of the content. The students, who are part of the student neurology interest group CORTEX, interacted with visitors using 3D printed brain models and MRI images of the brain. Another activity used celery and food coloring to create a visualization of water movement along axonal tracts in the brain.
“It was inspiring to witness so much interest and excitement from such a young population,” said student volunteer Narmien Haddad.
BU faculty from the VA Boston Healthcare System interacted with a steady flow of visitors at a station about the use of LED devices for cognitive improvement. Margaret Naeser, PhD, Research Professor of Neurology and Paula Martin, PhD, Research Assistant Professor of Neurology, talked with visitors about how their research on the use of transcranial LED devices may impact the treatment of illnesses such as TBI, PTSD, Dementia, Stroke, and Veteran Gulf War Illness.
“The LED therapies using red and near-infrared wavelengths of light applied to the head are so new to everyone, it was a pleasure to share this innovative technology with them,” said Naeser.
At another station, students worked with Anna Hohler, MD, Associate Professor of Neurology, and her patient Tim Dolan to educate visitors about a procedure called deep brain stimulation (DBS). DBS can lead to marked improvements in walking problems, stiffness, and other neurological symptoms common to Parkinson’s patients. Tim’s daughter Stacie talked with visitors about the impacts of Parkinson’s on the family, and how Tim’s DBS surgery and subsequent treatment have changed their lives.
“The most rewarding part of the day for me was hearing from a few people that they were going to make sure to talk to their family member with Parkinson’s Disease about pursuing deep brain stimulation for treatment,” said BUSM first year student Micaela Nannery.
A crowd favorite was a station where visitors learned about the tools and procedures used during the neurological exam and then took on the role of physician. Student volunteers acted as patients as their young physicians-in-training checked reflexes, measured blood pressure, and listened to heartbeats.
“I have never seen her stay so engaged in something for so long,” said one mother as her four-year-old performed one neurological exam after another on the student volunteers.
A father of five from New Hampshire talked with Dr. Hohler about Parkinson’s Disease as his children practiced neurological tests on the student volunteers and one another.
“We just happened to pick today to come down,” he said. “It’s pure luck that we ‘re here today – this is great!”
Rhoda Au, PhD, Professor of Anatomy and Neurobiology, gave a keynote talk on “Brain Health in the Digital Era.” She talked with visitors about how technology is being used to advance studies to find effective ways to not only treat dementia, but also possibly prevent it altogether.
“Dr. Au is a wonderful presenter, and her talk was incredibly popular with our visitors,” said Justin Harris, PhD, the museum Program Manager in charge of the event. “People are very interested in positive aspects of the aging brain such as interventions to improve cognitive functioning.”
The Brain Health Fair provided a unique opportunity for museum visitors to interact directly with clinicians and researchers who are at the cutting edge of brain science, and also gave BUSM faculty and students valuable experience with public communication of science.
As student volunteer Jessica Ng observed, “Seeing the kids trying to wrap their minds around DBS and mastering the neuro exam reminds me why I wanted to do medicine. Sometimes in the midst of third year it is easy to forget the excitement and wonder for science that brought me to BUSM.”