‘Cutting brains is like peeling potatoes’

Thousands of human brains float in jars of formaldehyde at a unique museum that gives visitors to Lima an up-close view of brain diseases, from trichinosis to stroke.

More than 2 500 brains are on display in a modest museum in Lima sponsored by the National Institute of Neurological Sciences (INCN).

Visitors can see brains of persons felled by HIV/Aids, Alzheimers, clots, haemorrhages, heart attacks and myriad tumors.

The museum is the proud owner of a brain that died of Creutzfeld-Jacob disease, the human variant of “mad cow,” which results in progressive dementia and loss of muscle control.

Also on exhibit: the brains of people who died of trichinosis, the most common brain disease in Peru, caused by eating undercooked meat, usually pork.

One brain, donated by United States physicians, is sliced in half and the right hemisphere dissected to show the skin, bone, arteries and veins.

The brains, collected since 1942, are crammed onto shelves covering the walls from floor level to the four-metre ceiling.

A nearby autopsy room holds only a concrete table, a hose, and a 30cm-long knife for slicing open skulls.

Museum director Diana Rivas, a slight neuropathologist, supervises 100 autopsies each year. That allows her to consider each brain for inclusion in the collection.

“For me, cutting brains is like peeling potatoes,” Rivas said as she toyed with the giant knife.

The museum also has deformed foetuses. One foetus has one eye, another a hole instead of a nose, and a third a brain but no skull.

Animal brains in the collection, of chickens, monkeys, cats and dogs, are distinguished by their cream colour, distinct from the gray of the human brains.

A healthy human brain weighs 1,2kg and is like hard jelly at death, Rivas said. “One month later it dries up and becomes as tough as a eraser,” she said.

The museum is inside the Santo Toribio de Mogrovejo hospital, a single-floor clinic in Lima built in the early 20th century and modeled after a 19th century French hospital. – AFP

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