Brainworks Inspires Students to Become Scientists

Marissa Rodriguez from Virgil Middle School tested her skills in a tumor removal simulation at Brainworks.

Lilliana Avila's desire to become a surgeon was apparent as she participated in a tumor removal simulation at Cedars-Sinai's 18th annual Brainworks convention.

The eighth-grader from Helen Keller Middle School in Long Beach was among roughly 175 middle school students from several Los Angeles area schools who visited Harvey Morse Auditorium on March 14 for the event that encourages students to pursue careers in science.

"I want to go into surgical oncology one day," said Avila, 14. "After doing a class project on career possibilities, I realized I want to help others through science and medicine."

Keith L. Black, MD, chair and professor of the Department of Neurosurgery and director of the Maxine Dunitz Neurosurgical Institute, started Brainworks in 1998 to help inspire the next generation of doctors, healthcare professionals and scientists. Black is also the director of the Johnnie L. Cochran Jr. Brain Tumor Center and the Ruth and Lawrence Harvey Chair in Neuroscience.

His hope was to cultivate in today's youth the same kind of passion for science he had as a boy.

"Brainworks came about because we wanted to expose as many young minds as possible to how exciting science is and especially how fascinating the brain is," Black said. "Once they experience performing virtual surgery on a robot and look at tumors under a microscope, they start to believe that becoming a neurosurgeon or neuroscience researcher is in reach."

The event included a virtual surgery station with 3-D imaging, microscopes and a phantom skull; a surgical instrumentation station; a neuropathology station with microscope slides of various tumor types; a rehabilitation station where students learned therapeutic applications for brain tumor patients; a brain and spine instrumentation station displaying some of the instruments used in operations; and an advanced research station where students learned about sheep brains.

Johnnie L. Cochran Jr. Middle School students (from left) Josue Euan, Alexis Chisom and Katherine Gio reacted as Michael Leone, a simulation specialist, demonstrated how to use the anatomy table.

"Science is exploding. I cannot imagine the things young minds will discover and invent," Black said to the students in his opening address. "I look forward to how they can change the world."

For the first year, Brainworks had a simulation lab featuring the Women's Guild Simulation Center for Advanced Clinical Skills. The station offered the opportunity for students to practice medicine on a "patient" with real-life features such as a pulse, breathing and blinking.

The three-hour event also included a keynote presentation on memory by Ueli Rutishauser, PhD, director of Human Neurophysiology Research and assistant professor in the Department of Neurosurgery, as well as separate discussions on rehabilitation and career opportunities.

Black concluded with advice for the students as they begin to consider their futures.

"Think about the things you enjoy. Find what you love to do and do that," Black said. "Be aggressive and be persistent to find the right opportunities. Find people who are doing the things that you want to do and ask them that what it takes to get there."