Mensagens das colecções de cérebro | Teachings from brain collections

Museu Anatómico de Nuno Grande, ICBAS, Porto | ©


What can we learn from brain collections?

Human brain collections, considered as a whole, reveal how the components of our nervous systems organise together. People can see, firsthand, the brain’s layers and internal structures from different angles becoming an opportunity to see several anatomical features such as the hippocampus, frontal cortex, cerebellum, corpus callosum and also have a glimpse on different pathological conditions such as cerebral aneurysms, hydrocephalus and brain degenerative diseases (Creutzfeldt-Jacobs disease, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease, amongst other).

Often brain collections include dissections and stained cross-sections of slide preparations showing the full pathways for vision and hearing, and photographs can offer closer views of the brain’s intricate structures. These objects when displayed with their historical context can highlight the achievements of groundbreaking research in neuroanatomy and other disciplines.

It is important for society to understand how the brain works in health and disease. In several exhibitions around the world, 19th and 20th century collections of preserved brain slices are a big attraction to visitors (revealing the different structures and fissures of the brain as you go deeper into the brain), most allow children and adults to see the inside of a real brain for the first time. And it is not easy for untrained eyes to make a distinction between old and young brains for their size and shape. 

Preserved human brains from the 19th-20th century are also important as raw material for research (genetics, neuroscience, medicine, etc) allowing the study of conditions such as schizophrenia, severe depression, Cushing´s, dementia, epilepsy, brain injuries such as trauma, and cancer. Brain collections become even more valuable with associated patient records and medication information. Some of the specimens on these older collections were collected from unmedicated people contrary to the brains collected today and thus allowing to study the brain pathology without the interference of the drug.

To conclude, a database for brain collections is important not only historically but also because it can still be an opportunity to provide raw biological material for contemporary research.