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Brainworks Program Aims to Inspire Next Generation

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Students from four Los Angeles-area middle schools visited Cedars-Sinai this month to take part in the Brainworks Program, which seeks to inspire the next generation of neurosurgeons and scientists.

Somewhere among the beaming young faces at Cedars-Sinai earlier this month, there may well have been a future neurosurgeon or scientist.

That's the central idea behind the Brainworks Program, which welcomed about 135 middle school students from four Los Angeles-area schools on March 20. The annual program, now in its 19th year, aims to inspire the next generation.

For the first time, this year's students had the opportunity to use a new high-definition imaging device to perform simulated surgery and see the inside of the brains of patient simulators. The humanlike simulators have pulses and can eat, breathe, speak and blink.

The activity was just one aspect of the program, hosted by Keith L. Black, MD, chair of the Department of Neurosurgery and director of the Maxine Dunitz Neurosurgical Institute.

Black started Brainworks in 1998 to help cultivate the same kind of passion for science that he discovered as a boy. He greeted the students and introduced them to techniques in neurosurgery.

"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," said Black. "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."

Students received hands-on experience with a virtual surgery station equipped with 3-D imaging, microscopes and a phantom skull. In addition to looking over a surgical station with instruments from the operating room, students also learned about therapeutic applications for brain tumor patients.

A nationally recognized leader in clinical and translational research in cerebrovascular studies, Nestor Gonzalez, MD, gave a keynote presentation to the student group. One student asked if he gets nervous when performing surgery, especially when the stakes can be life or death.

"There's always a bit of stress because we're concerned about the patient," said Gonzalez. "I want the patient to do well, but that stress allows you to be a perfectionist. It makes you aware of everything in the best possible way."