Dr. B’s brain collection helps local students learn anatomy

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Photo courtesy of Donna Bouley

Most of the time, veterinary pathologist Donna Bouley, DVM, PhD, provides pathology support for Stanford researchers and clinicians who work with animals.

But she also has an unusual hobby: Bouley, known to all as Dr. B, collects animal brains. Since 1997, she and others have taken “Dr. B’s Brain Collection” to local schools for a variety of science programs. Fascinated by this idea, I contacted her to learn more.

What inspired you to create your brain collection? What does it include?

“When I first started as faculty at Stanford, there were some preserved brains in the necropsy [animal autopsy] lab. I decided to start collecting more brains from animals that came to necropsy, when we didn’t need their brains to make our diagnosis. The word somehow got out that such a resource existed on campus. Now, I actually have two collections that are almost identical, because multiple labs were interested in borrowing the collection at the same time.

In each collection, I try to have at least one of the following brains: sheep, pig, dog, macaque, squirrel monkey, rabbit, owl, rat, mouse, cyclid (fish), and Xenopus laevis (an African Clawed frog). The brains are preserved and sealed in ‘seal-a-meal’ style bags or jars.

If any new species come through necropsy, I try to get brains from those animals. I also have to replace damaged ones each year, since the enthusiasm of middle schoolers can often result in the rough handling of my bagged brains. My necropsy tech keeps a close watch over the condition of the collections and replaces brains as needed or when available.”

How do you use the collection at Stanford?

“I teach a freshman seminar called Comparative Anatomy and Physiology of Mammals that tends to have several pre-vet and pre-med students each year. I use these brains to demonstrate various features that are similar or different between them, such as overall size, location of the cerebellum or the extent of brain surface folds and ridges. For instance, in lower mammals such as rodents — that survive mainly on instinct rather than cognitive processing — the brain has a very smooth surface. In mammals such as a pig, dog, or macaque that are higher functioning and quite intelligent, the brain surface is highly folded or convoluted. And dolphins and elephants have even more convolutions in their brains than humans!

I also have colleagues that teach Comparative Neuroanatomy at the graduate level and they borrow the brains.

I can only speak about my own college student reactions to exposure to this field and tell you in general they are amazed and in awe. They never look at animals the same after taking my class.”

How do others use the brain collection?

“Graduate students from Stanford psychology or neurobiology labs generally take a brain collection to nearby middle schools, where they work with students during a science class. They most likely also bring some human brains that they compare to the animal brains. Having unique visual teaching tools — real brains, not models or pictures — helps the middle schoolers gain insight into the complexity of the nervous system. Learning about anatomy from a truly comparative aspect is incredibly valuable, because it demonstrates the similarities as well as the unique differences between humans and other mammals.

I’m sure that ‘Dr. B’s Brains’ provide a very lasting impression on students.”

This is a reposting of my Scope blog story, courtesy of Stanford School of Medicine.

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Stanford medical student illustrates mnemonics

Illustration courtesy of Nick Love
Illustration courtesy of Nick Love

Medical students frequently turn to mnemonics to master human anatomy, but they’re usually just catchy phrases. Now, Nick Love, a second-year Stanford medical student, has created a more entertaining way to memorize anatomy: a set of illustrated mnemonics, which he has published in the form of a book and website. I recently spoke with Love about his project.

What inspired you to illustrate the anatomic mnemonics?

“When I began medical school, I was totally unaware as to the central role mnemonics play in medical education and beyond. They are everywhere! Their sometimes wacky and ridiculous wordings intrigued me — I wondered if they could serve as a unique source of ‘found imagery,’ starting points for visual exploration. I brought up this idea with Audrey Shafer, MD, director of the Biomedical Ethics and Humanities medical school track, and she kindly encouraged me and linked me up with an awesome mentor for the project, pediatric anesthesiologist and painter Samuel Rodriguez, MD.”

Where did you get the mnemonics and how did you choose your illustration style?

“They are all essentially common med school mnemonics. Fourteen of the 16 mnemonics were passed on to us as medical students, mainly by our clinical anatomy teaching assistants via the ‘whiteboards’ in the anatomy lab. I sourced one mnemonic directly from the internet, and I altered another because its original form was too raunchy for publication. At the moment, I am, unfortunately, too behind on too many things to add more.

In terms of illustration, I was motivated to try a digital-analog-digital process. I’m currently intrigued by combining the reproducibility of computer-aided illustration with the inherent chaos of spreading paint or ink. Also, I wanted to maximize color usage, insert a bit of whimsy into the illustrations and experiment with recursive imagery.”

Do you have a favorite mnemonic?

“My favorite mnemonic is ‘canned soup, really good in cans.’ It helps one remember the branches of the descending aorta — canned soup, really good in cans, representing celiac, superior mesenteric, renal, gonadal, inferior mesenteric, and common iliac arteries. The phrase ‘canned soup, really good in cans’ strikes me as rather humorous, like it was made for an ad campaign when soup was first put into cans. Genius, whoever came up with it.”

Do you have any art training? Who are your favorite artists?

“Before coming to medical school, my training was mainly in science. However, last year I took two art classes at Stanford, ‘Digital Photography’ and ‘Video Compositing,’ both of which were awesome. As a kid, I mostly played sports, video games and outside. The desire to make things came later.

My favorite artists include Alphonse Mucha, David Hockney, Kiyoshi Yamashita and Andy Warhol. Currently, my favorite museums are the Cantor Arts Center and the Anderson Collection — right here at Stanford and only about 1 km from the medical school! I also try to go to the Tate Modern when I’m in London.”

Do you hope to include art somehow in your future medical practice?

“I’m very much interested in learning more about what is referred to as the ‘art of medicine,’ and I hope to have the time to keep creating. At the moment, I’m most drawn to visually-based medical specialties, such as dermatology, pathology, radiology and nuclear medicine.”

This is a reposting of my Scope blog story, courtesy of Stanford School of Medicine.