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If You Want to Make a Brain Map, You Have to Slice up Some Brains

Visual ScienceBy Rebecca HorneJune 24, 2010 3:10 AM


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Jacopo Annese, Director of the Brain Observatory at the University of California at San Diego and his team are creating open-access, high-resolution, three-dimensional atlases of the human brain. This is done through a painstaking and exacting process of slicing brain specimens tissue thin, drying, staining, storing them, scanning each slice in stunningly high resolution and finally serving it all up digitally as a virtual model. While shooting at the Brain Observatory at the University of California at San Diego, Spencer Lowell photographed floor-to-ceiling freezers loaded with brains in giant plastic buckets, high-tech slicers being used to dice frozen human brains, and laboratory assistants meticulously unfolding gauzy brain slices with paintbrushes onto glass slides. Lowell noted that the Brain Observatory Director Jacopo Annese came across as a humanitarian as well as a neurological anatomist. Lowell: “Jacopo Annese’s job may be to orchestrate the dissecting, preserving, categorizing, and digitally archiving the brains of his donors, but he seemed to genuinely care as much about what the donors were like while they were alive. Since he's recording what a person's brain looks like after having lived a life full of experiences, he stressed the importance of learning about those experiences and how they could have imprinted the brain.” Indeed, much of the emphasis at the Brain Observatory and its related brain library project will be on finding donors who are able to participate in a monitoring, data-gathering program while they are still alive and healthy. The intended purpose would be to link this more personal information--an anonymous narrative biography, for example, to the scientific brain data to create a more complete picture. Photograph by Spencer LowellBrain specimen at UCSD’s Brain Obervatory, Nov 18th, 2009

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