Watch a Neuroanatomist Explain the Human Brain with a Fresh Brain in Her Hands

Watch as neuroanatomist Suzanne Stensaas describes the human brain whilst holding a fresh brain in her hands. The brain was recovered from a recently deceased person who donated their body to science.
Jessica Miley
The unfixed brain being handled by neuroanatomist Suzanne Stensaas.University of Utah Neuroscience Initiative/YouTube

Our brains are among our most precious organs. Not only do they keep us alive, but it is where all our memories and experiences are stored. But often we can get pretty gung-ho about looking after our brain when it is protected by such a mighty piece of bone like the skull.

You see all the time cyclist without helmets and drivers pushing the speed limit. It seems that even medical students who have the opportunity to handle human brains as part of their training aren’t sure what the brain is really like. This is because often the brains handled by students have spent a long time sitting in preserving liquids which completely changes their texture and sometimes even their shape.

But the University of Utah Neuroscience Initiative wants to change all that. They released a video back in 2013 that aimed to help students get a better understanding of the brain, particularly students who don’t have access to ‘fresh’ brains and have to rely on models or other study aids. Neuroanatomist Suzanne Stensaas, explains the motivation for making the video saying that, "Students tend to think that the brain is sort-of the consistency of a rubber ball, and that's because in the laboratories, and teaching specimens, we have formalin-fixed brains.”

In fact, as you see in the video, the brain is incredibly soft. In the video, Stensaas handles a 1.4 kg brain of a recently deceased person who had donated their body to science research. She starts the in-depth explanation by stating, "We are fortunate enough to show you what a normal, unfixed, recently deceased patient's brain would look like." Stensaas gently and respectfully rotates the brain in her hands as she explains the anatomical features of the organ. It is shocking to realize at once just how vulnerable our brains are and at the same time so hideously complex.

While the video is incredibly gruesome to some, it is a fascinating watch. Even though Stensaas is taking every possible precaution to be as gentle as possible, at one point she lingers too long in one position and leaves a very slight indent of her finger on the brain. She explains, "It's much softer than most of the meat you would see in the market," The brain is so soft in fact that when brains are being prepared for preserving they can’t just sit on the bottom of a tank or a jar but must be suspended in liquid. Otherwise, the bottom of the brain will take on the flat shape of the bottom of its holding container. You can see in the video the way scientists actually loop a piece of string through one of the brain's arteries to be able to suspend it. The video is an invaluable educational tool for those that will come into contact with human brains in a medical setting. But it also carries a powerful message to everyone. Look after your brain. Wear a helmet, don’t take risks. You only get one.

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