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With Tumor Samples, High-Tech Tools and Practice Sutures, "Brainworks" Brings Scientific Discovery Into Students' Reach

Los Angeles - Jan. 18, 2012 – Taking turns gazing into a surgical microscope, 130 seventh- and eighth-graders from Los Angeles area schools will see a phantom skull and perform virtual surgery – and many could catch a glimpse of the future.

Cedars-Sinai Medical Center's annual Brainworks program introduces young people to the excitement and benefits of careers in science and medicine. This year's event, occurring on Feb. 13 during Black History Month, will entertain and educate students from predominantly minority communities who attend Johnnie L. Cochran Jr. Middle School, James A. Forshay Learning Center, Lighthouse Church School, Greater New Jerusalem Missionary Baptist Church and an independent after-school program.

Attendees, selected by teachers for interest and achievement in science, will get hands-on experience as they visit interactive areas such as stations for:

  • Virtual surgery, with 3-D imaging and microscope with phantom skull.
  • Surgical instruments, with tools used in the operating room.
  • Neuropathology, with real sheep brains and microscope slides of various tumor types.
  • Rehabilitation and healing, where students learn what it's like to apply and receive therapy.
  • Sutures, giving students the chance to practice mending wounds.
  • Brain and spine instrumentation, showing hardware used in patient treatment.
  • Research, where students can work with scientists to perform DNA, tumor and other experiments. Scientists will describe their progress with brain tumor vaccines, immunotherapy for Parkinson's and Alzheimer's diseases and methods of crossing the blood-brain barrier to fight tumors.

Following 10 a.m. welcoming remarks by Keith L. Black, MD, professor and chair of the Department of Neurosurgery, Michael J. Alexander, MD, professor and clinical chief of the department, will give the keynote presentation on brain injuries and illnesses and new ways to treat them.

Alexander, director of the Neurovascular Center, specializes in minimally invasive techniques and innovative devices to clear blocked brain arteries, retrieve stroke-causing clots and perform other brain operations. He uses sophisticated imaging systems and tools passed through blood vessels to perform complex procedures rather than older more invasive types of approaches. Since he joined Cedars-Sinai in 2007, the neurovascular program has become one of the largest referral centers on the West Coast.

Neurosurgeon Ray M. Chu, MD, will present a session on brain and spinal cord anatomy, and Chirag Patil, MD, director of the Center for Neurosurgical Outcomes Research, will host a neuroscience “Family Feud” game. In the afternoon, students will learn about rehabilitation and health care career opportunities.

Black, who published an award-winning research paper at age 17, started Brainworks in 1998 to fan the flame of scientific interest in young people who show the potential to make great contributions in science and medicine. The Department of Neurosurgery also presents an educational program on stem cell research for high school students, offers undergraduate and graduate scholarships through the Pauletta and Denzel Washington Family Gifted Scholars Program in Neuroscience, and has a neurosurgery residency training program, as well as neurovascular and spine fellowship programs.

Brainworks, presented by the Department of Neurosurgery and the Maxine Dunitz Neurosurgical Institute, will be from 10 a.m. to 1:10 p.m. in Cedars-Sinai's Harvey Morse Auditorium. West Coast Spine & Ortho provides financial support.