On June 10, we visited the museum of the history of medicine to see the evolution of medical and health tools used for medical practice over the years. As seen above, one of the tools for neurosurgery used is a drill for creating holes- burr holes- in the skull as part of the initial process of neurosurgery. The name contains “Trépan” which translates to “drill” and the previous part means head. Today, after years of tool development we have electric drills to make burr holes making it much easier and safer because of stainless steel, high precision, and lesser chance of infection.
On June 15th, 2022, we visited the pantheon as part of our class visit. this monument lies in the 5th arrondissement. It was intended to be a church dedicated to Saint Genevieve. However, once the construction was completed, the French revolution started and voting led to the church being transformed into a mausoleum, to house the bodies of distinguished French citizens, inspired by the Pantheon in Rome. It was an exciting visit, despite its similarities to Pere Lachaise, the mausoleum felt very different.
All the bodies buried at the Pantheon were individuals who achieved greatness publicly only after July 14, 1978, of which Marie Curie was one. Marie Curie a.k.a Maria Sklodowska came to Paris in 1891, to continue her studies in physics and mathematics and gained her Doctor of Science degree in 1903. She is one of the 6 women buried in the pantheon and is known for her discoveries in physics and chemistry. She was awarded the noble prize twice when she was alive!. Her most famous discovery was in radiology, where she developed the methods for separating radium from radioactive material and polonium, (named after her birth country, Poland).
Radiology and the use of radium today are most commonly used in the field of oncology to help eliminate cancer using chemotherapies. Radiation from radium is a very common form of radiation used to remove cancer from the brain. Marie Curie is also known for the development of brachytherapy as a method to remove cancer with the collaboration of Claudius Regaud. Brachytherapy delivers high levels of radiation to brain tumors, but has a very high specificity, and thus spares any surrounding tissue to the tumor. Brachytherapy also has a low rate of necrosis of tissue in comparison to other radiation methods. The discovery of radium and polonium as well as a method for removing cancer using radiation is a huge step in oncology and neurooncology.
Apart from the use of this in removing cancer from various body parts, especially the brain, ionizing radiation is very commonly looked at for neurodegenerative diseases. In a study by Sharma et. al 2018, the team of researchers discusses the long-term effects of radiation and exposure to radiation on the prevalence of neurodegenerative diseases. They conclude that the epidemiology of biological mechanisms is yet to be discovered but they showed that slower, long-term radiation from various different sources could be a leading factor in not only cancers and birth defects but also neuro-degenerative effects related to other factors such as age.
Overall, it was a fun visit and helped me learn the histories behind the various distinguished French citizens who I would have otherwise never known!
Our Visit to the Dermatology museum on June 7th was very surprising. I went in expecting to not feel nauseated, but after the visit I did. We weren’t allowed to take pictures because all the molds were made from real-life patients, and taking pictures would be unethical. This visit connected to both our neuroscience classes, since we were able to connect our paper about syphilis and how a nervous system disease can also manifest onto the skin. We were able to connect our neuroscience knowledge about the neurological and ocular changes over various stages of syphilis and apply them while seeing the molds that represented the various stages of the disease on the skin.
I was also able to connect to my neuroethics research when we were informed about the reason we weren’t allowed to take pictures. It was refreshing to see how museums also require ethical guidelines when displaying structures taken from real-life patients.
Last Sunday on June 12th I went to Giverny, Paris to visit the gardens and house of Claude Monet. My friend, Jewel and I took the SNCF train from Saint Lazare to Vernon-Giverny station from which we rented a bicycle from a nearby shop to go to Giverny. We set sail on our bikes along the French countryside and rode our way to Monet’s house.
We reached the most beautiful little town I have ever seen! The whole town was filled with colorful flowers ranging from Lillies to peonies to even white roses. We got our tickets and went straight to Monet’s gardens. The garden’s entrance felt like being in an enchanted maze, filled with the sound of birds and a feel of fresh air. I felt rejuvenated walking through Monet’s gardens and the town of Giverny itself, and I wondered why I felt so calm and energized simultaneously. We talked about neurotechnology in class- feelzing- a company manufacturing a device that stimulates the brain to feel calm and energized at the same time, and I wondered how I felt this way without a device. The only possible reason I could think of was Nature and its effects on the mind.
It is common knowledge that being in nature helps reduce anxiety and stay calm- a sort of very natural meditation many of us experience. It is also commonly perceived that people who tend to live near a lot of nature including trees, forests, lakes, sea, mountains, etc., or interact with nature daily are happier than those who do not interact with or in nature. According to White et al. (2013), increasing green space in urban areas promotes reduced mental distress and higher well-being on an individual level. There exists an interesting theory known as the Biophilia hypothesis, proposed by Harvard biologist Edward O Wilson, that suggests that humans have an innate affiliation to other living organisms, and this spans across all cultures and countries (Selhub, Logan 2012). Biophilia is a hypothesis that may be able to explain the connection many of us feel when we are amidst nature.
According to Cox et al. (2017), increased vegetation cover and bird sound abundance were positively associated with a lower prevalence of depression, anxiety, and stress. Biologically, this increase in mental health is due to the various smells that we experience in nature including flowers, nectar, water, and also the sounds we experience from various birds, insects, animals, and moving water which helps us recover from stress than sounds of urban life, (Alvarsson et al., 2010).
Overall, this was one of the best trips I have experienced until now and I would recommend going to Giverny to anyone looking for a “secret garden” escape from their busy life. Cycling along the Seine across the country hillside was a great therapeutic choice after a hectic week of work and papers.
On Wednesday, May 25th we visited a Fromagerie for a cheese tasting in Paris! It was a very different experience for me since I am not a fan of cheese. Personally, I like to avoid cheese in all I eat if possible, but I am glad I got to try different kinds of cheese because it was a great experience. We played lots of games and tried 5 different kinds of cheese. We tried the camembert, goat’s cheese, and other cheese made from goat’s milk, cow’s milk, and sheep’s milk.
Connecting it back to the NBB class, we did learn that cheese has an attenuating effect on the stress response, although I found a different article that talks about the response of the brain to cheese. The article talks about how cheese like many other dairy products contains casein, and sometimes casomorphins. These substances trigger the same pathways as opiate drugs do. This is very interesting and may shed more light on the addictive properties of cheese and the obesity risk due to highly salted cheese. This can be also linked to neuroethics and discussion of how companies use this knowledge to sell cheese “that you can’t stop eating”.
On Monday, May 30th we took a class visit to Choco Story-a chocolate museum. This was the most exciting visit for me because I love chocolate enough to be able to survive on only chocolate for the rest of my life!
The visit started with all of us participating in a chocolate workshop. We went down to the basement and saw amazing chocolate sculpture artworks outside the workshop. The huge Eiffel tower sculpture gave me a kick start for the workshop. We began by learning how to cover various foods in melted chocolate including candied orange strips, marshmallows, and chocolate fudge. We could either dip the in dark chocolate, milk chocolate, or white chocolate. I learned that if the chocolate isn’t churned well enough and melted at the right temperature, it will solidify very easily and turn into a huge chunk of chocolate rock. I had always tried chocolates that included orange peels but had not tried fresh orange peels in fresh dark chocolate and it was the best thing ever! I even got the market the chef got the peels from and got some more from there later.
After learning how to coat them with chocolate, we made our own chocolate bars. This was the most fun part of the visit because it was a great way to learn from the chef how we can incorporate beautiful designs into chocolate. The chef made musical notes on the chocolate bar and it was a moment of “Wow!” (Picture below). Then we took a tour of the museum at our own pace to end the visit.
Chocolate, as I learned from Socci et al.’s literary review, has been known to already enhance cognitive abilities and cocoa flavonoids- present in all cocoa products produce a neuroprotective effect. The main sub-class of flavanoids that are known to reduce the rate of age-related cognitive decline are flavanols. These flavanols and to an extent all cocoa-driven products are known to sustain cognitive abilities such as executive functions, attention, and memory. Ongoing studies are also showing the ability of dose-dependent cocoa products to provide for better working memory and fluid intelligence. Further, recent studies and their conclusions are describing chocolate and cocoa products to be neutraceutical. A neutraceutical is a substance present in a food or group of foods generally that has health and cognitive benefits that could include treatment or prevention of disease.
With this information regarding the chocolate and its nootropic effects on my cognitive abilities, I am glad I did not stop eating chocolate at a young age after my mom told me to because “it would rot my teeth”. Overall making my own chocolate goods and bars and eating them as dessert every day has been the highlight of my experience so far!
Today (May 26,2022) we went to the Père Lachaise cemetery for a class visit. This cemetery is the largest one in Paris and hosts the graves of many famous actors, singers, musicians, poets, authors, and especially various scientists. One of the famous scientists buried in Père Lachaise is Claude Bernard (1813-1878). Bernard was a French physiologist who studied at Harvard and has contributed a great deal to the field of medicine. To some, he is the man who laid the initial foundation of the field of neuroscience. He found the connection between the heart, peripheral organs, and the brain. We also owe him a great debt for influencing widely lay methodological experimental methods used in modern science. He introduced the neurovisceral integration model which explains the theoretical view of the regulation and dysregulation of emotions. With his various other contributions, he is one of the many famous individuals buried there along with Chopin!
The most unique class visit I experienced was to the Fragonard Museum in Paris on May 23, 2022. The museum boasted a unique display of “curiosities” with collections ranging from cow intestines to large shelves of bones arranged by age. Walking up to the museum was exciting for many of us, although it turned into a stomach-churning experience for some. During the visit, I found the most interesting museum displays of illnesses and/or deformities that were considered “mythical” for a major part of history but are treatable or can no longer be seen today with the drastic advance in veterinary medicine.
As narrated by our tour guide, a student at the veterinary school, we owe it to Claude Bourgelat for establishing the first-ever veterinary school in Lyon in 1761. The École national vétérinaire d’Alfort was first established in 1765 in the center of Paris and later shifted to the outskirts of Paris in 1766.
The Fragonard museum hosted by the veterinary college explains the importance of museums such as this for learning the history and evolution of veterinary studies. The founder of the school opened the first-ever veterinary school in the center of Paris which later was moved to the outskirts because Paris “distracted” the students. Something that struck me in the tour was how quickly veterinary medicine gained importance, especially concerning pets, farm animals, and/or animals used for sport. One such “ancient” illness we witnessed was one that causes a buildup in brain pressure disarticulating the skull. The display “Tête désarticulé ” shows how the brain would separate before medical interventions were invented. This specific medical complication is ancient because today in the advancing field of medicine, neuroscientists have found effective ways to avoid this even in just-born infants! (Patel et al. 2013)
Despite these astounding displays, the most bizarre part of the museum was the “slayed” men or skinned men of the museum. In the finale of the museum tour, we witnessed a room of disturbing yet curious anatomical oddities of authentic-skinned men, horses, heads, and even babies. These were created by Honoré Fragonard in the late 1700s. Although the atrocities of this display may be considered unethical today in many countries, these have paved methods of dissection and preservation more accurately than known before. Some students and I discussed with our professors at the end that the ethical issues of whose bodies were on display and where they came from still concern me.
Learning and experiencing this museum is a must for all who visit Paris. Regardless of the icky factor of the museum displays, I had the most fantastic day in a museum I have ever had!
Fourman, S., Buesing, D., Girvin, S., Nashawi, H., & Ulrich-Lai, Y. M. (2021). Limited cheese intake reduces HPA axis and behavioral stress responses in male rats. Physiology & Behavior, 242, 113614. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.physbeh.2021.113614