Brain Museum: are you brave enough to explore the human brain?

What will you find in a Geology museum? Rocks. What will you find in a Historical museum? Artifacts. What will you find in a brain museum? Brains. Every brain has a ‘yarn’ to be untangled and you can spend years trying to unravel all of them. Now that we have this sorted, let’s proceed.

Did you know one of the most extraordinary museums at NIMHANS has preserved over 600 samples of human brain? The number is increasing every year. The museum is managed by the Department of Neuropathology. It was because of Dr. S. K. Shankar’s, professor and head of the Department of Neuropathology, efforts on acquiring brain donation that the brain museum even exists today. He took permission during every possible autopsy process to preserve the brain and use parts of it for research. The research did reveal some intriguing and insightful records, that is not possible to unearth through a MRI scan. The brains collected and preserved were solely for teaching purpose. However, Dr. Shankar realized the significance of letting humans take a walk in the room full of brain samples.  

“”Initially, these were used only to teach the students of neuropathology or other subjects. But later we wanted to share our knowledge. As a community we did not want to be closed. Let people come and see for themselves how the brain looks, what kind of diseases can affect it, how the mind works,” explained Dr Shankar.”– Times of India, 2011

When you enter the museum you will find brains on display in formula-packed containers. Every brain in the museum has a past – you can study the details on anatomy, physiology, psychology, psychiatry, neurology and neurosurgery. You will get a deeper understanding of how the brain responds or works during different moods. Right opposite to the brain museum is a ‘brain bank’. This is restricted to students of NIMHANS who conduct research on brains kept at minus 80 degrees Celsius.

Humans come in all shapes and sizes. Naturally, so do brains – after all they need to be a perfect fit! The brains belong to those who died a natural death or experienced a brain injury or diagnosed with specific diseases like Parkinson or Alzheimer’s. You can understand the impact on the brain when one is suffering from Alzheimer’s.  If you study the brain very closely (now that you actually can), you will notice the fibers that go to the frontal cortex is disconnected. If you study a brain that has taken a hit due to Schizophrenia or Alzheimer’s you will see them in its shrunken state. The reduced size and scraggy nerves in the brains is an indication of severe abnormalities. In a few of the brain samples you will even be able to observe elusive traces of intracerebral hemorrhage (ICH).

Do you know brains can be devastatingly affected if tapeworms and amoeba enter them? If you go for a swim in an unclean pool then there are chances of amoeba entering through your nasal cavity, especially if you have low immunity. Eating unwashed and ‘tape-wormed’ coriander can damage your brain – not joking! Not many of us actually consider this when we head out to gorge down delicious street food probably containing dirty coriander. Though this sounds bloodcurdling, now that you know I am sure you are going to be somewhat alert before you decide to jump into any swimming pool or eat yummy street food.  

This museum, which was set up to educate people, also has a strong optimistic message for visitors to take home. “Almost 70 per cent of these conditions are preventable or treatable. The key message here is to ensure that you get diagnosed and get suitable intervention at the early stages.””

You won’t find only human brains on display here but even get to observe and study the brains of animals such as cats, mice and cows. “Ask Dr. Shankar which his favourite brain is and he confesses: “I have lived with them for 30 years. I cannot pick a favourite!” According to him the museum is here to “raise curiosity about neurosciences,” – The Hindu, 2013

This weekend quench your thirst for the ‘neurosciences’! Explore, study and hold a brain in your dainty hands. According to a few articles the brain you get to grasp and probably even clasp feels like hardened ‘paneer’. Obviously, our ‘alive’ brain is way gooier in every sense. We don’t want to see that anytime soon. Hop on your bikes and run your senses and fingers through brains that have many anecdotes to share! Don’t forget to share your ‘mind-changing’ experiences and the chilling moments. If you find the brain trembling in your hands, it is just your hands quivering with excitement. I am pretty sure! The visit to the only brain museum in our country is going to leave you dumbstruck and it won’t be because of the dysfunctional workings in your brain. Have a great weekend!

Disclaimer: It is not for the faint-hearted. You need to be courageous enough to meet the real human brains eye to eye.