Unique Museum of Neuroanatomy Opens at University at Buffalo

By Lois Baker

Release Date: October 18, 1994 This content is archived.


BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Some 70 exquisitely dissected human brain specimens resembling delicately wrought sculptures hang suspended in crystalline liquid in individual Plexiglas boxes in the new Museum of Neuroanatomy at the University at Buffalo.

Spotlights dramatize the organ's characteristic folds and contours. Hand-made pins tipped in blue, orange, green, lavender, red, and light blue identify each specimen's special features.

Lining the walls of the museum are color photographs of the brain, along with a series of X-rays, computerized-tomography (CT) scans, magnetic-resonance-imaging (MRI) scans, and positron-emission-tomography (PET) scans.

"Treat the brain with reverent gentleness...," a quote from Wilder Penfield, noted neurosurgeon and author, inscribed on a wall hanging inside the door advises visitors, "...and it will reveal its secrets."

Thought to be the only installation of its kind in the U.S., this museum devoted exclusively to the brain contains no unsavory looking masses of gray-and-white matter sloshing in jars of cloudy, odoriferous formaldehyde.

Harold Brody, M.D, Ph.D., professor of anatomy and cell biology at UB for more than 40 years, and the museum's creator, wanted the museum to reflect the elegance of its subject.

"The brain is so fundamentally beautiful," he says. "I wanted the displays also to be attractive. I knew that if it didn't look appealing, it would turn people off."

The museum, which opened officially last month, had been a spark in Brody's mind ever since he saw a similar installation in Copenhagen, Denmark, while studying there on a Fulbright fellowship in 1963.

Medical students in Europe traditionally learned their anatomy from such permanent exhibits because of the scarcity of cadavers for dissection, Brody said. He helped to establish a successful donor program at The University of Copenhagen, and brought back to the U.S. with him the idea for a neuroanatomy museum.

Thirty years later, his idea has been transformed into an extensive collection of specimens detailing the structure of the human brain from many viewpoints. One display reveals the medial surface of the right hemisphere; another is delicately dissected to reveal each layer of the brain. Other displays show the cranial nerve supply, the brain's blood supply and the path of nerve impulses in the brain that ultimately produce vision.

These and several dozen additional specimens fill 10 glass display cases. Each specimen is accompanied by a written description keyed to the color-coded pins. Leaving no details to chance, Brody; his assistant, Thomas Wietchy, an anatomy master's degree candidate, and Katerina Smith, a senior histology technician, made the pins themselves from dental wire dipped in acrylic pigments and epoxy. The specimens were dissected by Brody, Wietchy and several medical students.

Medical, dental and nursing students, occupational-therapy and physical-therapy students, doctoral candidates in psychology and speech communication, and hospital residents in neurology and neurosurgery already have been using the exhibits as study aids for more than a year.

But Brody wanted this exhibit to be used by everyone -- kindergartners and neurosurgery students alike -- as a way to learn about the grandest and most mysterious human organ. He is particularly interested in bringing in students from area public schools.

Groups of high school students have toured the museum to date, as well as a cadre of students on campus for the summer.

Brody will add specimens and additional materials to the museum as time and money permit. In the meantime, he hopes to establish regular hours when the museum will be open to the public.

"I feel this is such a valuable asset, that anybody interested in the structure of the brain should have access to it," he says. "I think this could make a tremendous contribution in a very specific way to medicine and the community."