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Local Students Become 'Brainiacs' During Brain Awareness Week

By Shannon Garnett

Some local students recently found out what's really on their minds, and even what their minds are made of, when they participated in NIH's Brain Awareness Week program, cosponsored by NINDS, NIDA, NIA, NIMH, the National Museum of Health and Medicine in Washington, D.C., and the Dana Alliance for Brain Initiatives.

The students — 5th, 6th, 7th and 8th graders from area schools — became certified "brainiacs" during the 2-day hands-on educational program held at the museum on Mar. 15-16.

NINDS director Dr. Gerald Fischbach opened the program with an overview session on "Your Brain and You." The students then divided into small groups, played games, solved puzzles, and visited different exhibits such as "Know Your Brain" led by Dr. Cheryl Kitt, an NINDS extramural program director. She showed the students brain slices through a microscope, MRIs on a light box, brain samples with magnifying glasses, and various "brain" toys.

Students touch and hold real human brains at the National Museum of Health and Medicine.

Drs. Lucinda L. Miner and Catherine Sasek of NIDA presented "Mind Over Matter," the institute's drug education program, with special guest "Sara Bellum," the program's mascot who explained the effects of drugs on the brain.

Other featured exhibits included a video by NIA scientists Drs. Molly Wagster and Steve Snyder, who explained how the brain develops and changes from birth to old age; a presentation by NIMH scientists Dr. Jay Giedd and Elizabeth Molloy on "The Wonders of the Brain," which showed how scientists learn about the brain and how it grows; and a segment of a film on sports and the brain called "Exploring Your Brain," presented by representatives from the Dana Alliance.

NINDS's Dr. Cheryl Kitt and director Dr. Gerald Fischbach show area school children samples of brain tissue during the "Know Your Brain" presentation.

Throughout the program students were allowed to view numerous displays of normal and diseased human and mammal brains preserved in fluids, and were encouraged to touch and hold real human brains preserved through a unique process called "plastination," courtesy of the museum.

Dr. Molly Wagster, NIA, shows how the myelin sheath, the fatty covering on nerve fibers of the brain, acts as an insulator.

Participating schools included the Takoma Educational Center, Shepherd Elementary, and the Owl School — all in Washington, D.C., and the Hebrew Day Institute in Silver Spring, Md.

Dr. Steve Snyder, NIA, explains how the brain develops and changes from birth to old age.

Brain Awareness Week — an international event involving 41 countries and more than 1,000 organizations — was launched in 1995 by the Dana Alliance as a way of educating the public about the importance of brain research.

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