Exploring MVHS FPPN and MVHS Neuroscience’s annual sheep brain dissection club collaboration

On Monday, March 21, 2022, Monta Vista Future Practicing Physicians Network (MVHS FPPN) and Monta Vista Neuroscience (MVHS Neuroscience) had their first brain dissection collaboration meeting since the start of the COVID-19 Pandemic in 2020. After hours of preparation and coordination, the two MVHS clubs were able to host the highly-awaited dissection for their eager club members — teaching valuable lessons and making priceless memories.

The brain is one of the most important organs in the body; according to Princeton Brain and Spine, the brain allows us to function like humans — coordinating both actions and reactions, enabling us to think and serving for us to have memories and feelings. Unfortunately, it is unfeasible for the clubs to dissect a human brain, so they opted instead to dissect the brain of a sheep — an animal in which brain structure and function are both similar to those of humans, according to The Exploratorium. Dissecting the brain of a sheep allows us to see the brain in much more detail, enabling us to pinpoint where the parts of the brain are located and how they work together to perform all of the brain’s various functions.

Pictures taken during the sheep brain dissection on Monday, March 21, 2022. Photos courtesy of Anusha Sainarayanan and Raaga Karumanchi | Used with permission

Oftentimes, science classes in school are unable to explore learnings in a hands-on way like dissections do, focusing more on lecture-based lessons. Hence, the officers from both MVHS FPPN and MVHS Neuroscience hope that this brain dissection gives a more direct learning experience for their members who are deeply interested in either medicine, neuroscience or both.

Senior Ananya Rupanagunta, MVHS Neuroscience club’s president, adds that the brain dissection not only introduces members to a more hands-on approach in learning the parts of the brain and their functions but also shows them the vast field of neuroscience — and how hard it really is to study such a conceptual organ as the brain.

“Most of our [brain structure] lectures are simplified content meant [to convey] a very basic understanding,” said Rupanagunta. “But then, when you actually cut through the brain and see how all of the parts overlap and are connected, you realize that there is so much depth to [neuroscience].”

Lora Lerner, MVHS biology teacher and MVHS FPPN club advisor, agrees with Rupanagunta. Lerner believes that one of the most interesting parts of the sheep brain dissection, in her experience, is being able to visualize what used to be such an abstract concept.

“You can clearly see the different structures [in the brain] — [such as] the hypothalamus and the optic nerve and how they’re physically connected, or the actual myelin,” said Lerner. “I remember — it’s like, ‘yeah, I’ve read about that, but I didn’t really quite get the brain until I saw it.’”

Vrinda Inani, sophomore at MVHS and FPPN club member, recently partook in the dissection on Monday. Inani believes the dissection to be a great experience, not only in helping her understand more about the brain in a more direct approach than classrooms offer but also a great way to introduce different elements of her career aspirations.

“My favorite aspect of the [brain] dissection was getting a first-hand feel for not only dissections in general [but] also surgery-like [procedures],” said Inani. “We had diagrams provided and could even talk to officers that were constantly available for any questions — [that] really helped me learn more about the brain and the dissection-process.”

While the brain dissection provides immeasurable value to club members, preparing for it takes a lot of dedicated work from the club officers. Junior Raaga Karumanchi, an MVHS Neuroscience club officer, shares how both clubs have been working on this dissection for the past few months, shaping their previous club lessons and activities around the dissection. In order to ensure all members are prepared for the dissection, the club’s created lessons on the different parts of the brain, their functions, their locations and safety procedures for the dissection itself. Both MVHS FPPN and MVHS Neuroscience emphasized the safety meetings, making attendance to the safety meeting required to be able to perform the dissection.

A picture of three MVHS FPPN Officers at the dissection meeting: Reeya Sawhney, Divya Venkataraman and Anusha Sainarayanan (left to right). Photo courtesy of Anusha Sainarayanan | Used with permission

“We have two safety meetings before the actual brain dissection,” said Karumanchi. “They are a really great way to give members a head’s up, and [let them know] what will be on the dissection.”

Ultimately, regardless of how long it took, both MVHS FPPN and MVHS Neuroscience handled this intricate collaboration incredibly well. Lerner conveyed her pride in the organization of the dissection, highlighting the unique experience the dissection provided to club members in both MVHS FPPN and MVHS Neuroscience. 

“From the perspective of a club advisor, I thought [the clubs] did a great job in preparing [such] an educational experience,” said Lerner. “A lot of what makes the dissection so special is its novelty —  it’s an interesting thing that you may not get another chance to do.”

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