Woman has part of her living brain removed for science

Staff writer

Imagine donating a small chunk of your living brain to science.

Epilepsy sufferers in Seattle are giving researchers a rare opportunity to study the inner-workings of brain cells - while they are still breathing.

After an operation to improve her condition, Rihanna Kortlever agreed to hand over a small section of her neocortex - the wrinkly, outer layer of the brain usually discarded as medical waste.

Scientists at the Allen Institute for Brain Research have worked out how to keep the samples alive to analyse them and help them understand how the human brain functions.

Once removed, the tissue sample is carefully placed in a cooler and rushed to the Institute's labs, a 10-minute drive away. It's sliced into incredibly thin sections which can be kept alive for days and sometimes weeks.

The labs use a method called 'electro-physiology' to measure the goings-on of the brain cells. It means researchers can manipulate very small glass pipettes onto the surface of a live brain cell, probe the cell for its electrical signature and attempt to remove its nucleus.

Recent research shows there are crucial differences between human and mouse brains... Some surrounding the mood chemical serotonin - which could explain the difficulty in treating conditions like depression and anxiety.

With an estimated 75 distinct cell types in the neocortex and two Seattle hospitals providing live brain samples...

The Institute's researchers are being kept busy with their groundbreaking work.