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Gifted youth introduced to Brainworks at Cedar-Sinai

Juliana D. Norwood | 2/8/2012, 5 p.m.

Taking turns gazing into a surgical microscope, 130 seventh- and eighth-graders from Los Angeles area schools will see a phantom skull and perform virtual surgery and many could catch a glimpse of the future through the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center's annual Brainworks program.

The program created by Dr. Keith Black, professor and chair of the Department of Neurosurgery at Cedars-Sinai, introduces young people to the excitement and benefits of careers in science and medicine. This year's event, occurring on Monday, Feb. 13 during Black History Month, will entertain and educate students from predominantly minority communities who attend Johnnie L. Cochran Jr. Middle School, James A. Forshay Learning Center, Lighthouse Church School, Greater New Jerusalem Missionary Baptist Church and an independent after-school program.
Black's own medical inspirations outside the home were fostered by a visit to the medical school of the University of Pennsylvania when he was an adolescent. The researchers and doctors welcomed him into their laboratories and took the time to explain what they were doing, he recalls. He still remembers their passion for their work.

"At the age when some kids start to get the message that their life choices are limited, I didn't get derailed," Black says. "These researchers opened up my possibilities and reinforced the encouragement I received at home for my pursuit of medicine."

"Somehow, between elementary school, where kids are generally enthusiastic and inquisitive and discoverers by nature, students come into middle school and they've either lost that or the way that we're teaching the students is turning them off to science," says Virginia Shepherd, Ph.D., director of the Center for Science Outreach at Vanderbilt University.

Engaging these students, especially minority females, in science experiences outside the classroom can motivate them to continue taking science courses as they head into high school, according to a 2006 California Institute of Technology study.

Attendees of the Brainworks program are selected by teachers for interest and achievement in science, and will get hands-on experience as they visit interactive areas such as stations for:
*Virtual surgery, with 3-D imaging and microscope with phantom skull.
*Surgical instruments, with tools used in the operating room.
*Neuropathology, with real sheep brains and microscope slides of various tumor types.
*Rehabilitation and healing, where students learn what it's like to apply and receive therapy.
*Sutures, giving students the chance to practice mending wounds.
*Brain and spine instrumentation, showing hardware used in patient treatment.
*Research, where students can work with scientists to perform DNA, tumor and other experiments. Scientists will describe their progress with brain tumor vaccines, immunotherapy for Parkinson's and Alzheimer's diseases and methods of crossing the blood-brain barrier to fight tumors.

Black, who published an award-winning research paper at age 17, started Brainworks in 1998 to fan the flame of scientific interest in young people who show the potential to make great contributions in science and medicine.

The Department of Neurosurgery also presents an educational program on stem cell research for high school students, offers undergraduate and graduate scholarships through the Pauletta and Denzel Washington Family Gifted Scholars Program in Neuroscience, and has a neurosurgery residency training program, as well as neurovascular and spine fellowship programs.

Brainworks, which is presented by the department of Neurosurgery and the Maxine Dunitz Neurosurgical Institute, will be held from 10 a.m. to 1:10 p.m. in Cedars-Sinai's Harvey Morse Auditorium.

For more information on the program, visit www.cedars-sinai.edu.