Patient HM, arguably the single most famous neurological patient to have ever redefined how we connect cells to minds is going on the big screen…slice by slice, micron by micron at -40 degrees centigrade.
According to the note left on the live webcam, today is the big day. Yesterday, over a course of 14 hours, they sliced the first 3cm of the frontal cortex to the corpus callosum. Today they will continue and follow the medial temporal lobes through the areas surrounding the hippocampus — the area that was removed giving patient HM his severe amnesia.
I actually got to see this happen too! Earlier today, as I dropped by the Radiologial Imaging Laboratory to administer a routine MRI, I saw David Malmberg, an engineer at the Scripps Institute of Oceanography who has been helping me design my fiber optic sensors. When Dr. Annese had contracted the SIO to help him modify his brain slicing gear, David was assigned as the lead engineer to redesign the brain slicing apparatus to withstand colder temeratures as well as modify the microscopes to hold larger brain slices to take bigger pictures. He had been asked to be on hand at the laboratory while the brain was being sliced, just in case of any equipment malfunction.
After hearing about this, I took a peek inside the extremely stylish modern laboratory and witnessed about 20 minutes of the procedure on a very large flatscreen, before having to leave to unstick a jammed head coil from its base in the MRI. I took a shot on my cell phone to prove I was there, but I think the live webcam does a better job of showing just how friggin awesome this is.
I highly recommend checking out the UCSD Brain Observatory website to learn more about how Dr. Jacopo Annese, Ph.D is creating the our most advanced library of digitized human brains. If neuroscience ever achieves a complete and comprehensive library of high-resolution neural images, this is where it will come from.