A special Thanksgiving
As a recent immigrant to California who came from Southern Europe, some local rituals are still new to me. It is the case for the one scheduled for tomorrow: Thanksgiving. Originally created to celebrate the first harvest of the Pilgrims on the American soil , it is now a very important family gathering – and, judging by the deluge of advertising inflicted to us, there is a risk that Thanksgiving might one day be simply known as “Black Friday‘s Eve”. As for me, I have decided that Thanksgiving would be the day to publicly express my gratitude. I could thank many people that I have been blessed to meet in the last year of my professional like but if I had to select one person, it would be without hesitation Jacopo Annese. Jacopo is the founder of the Brain Observatory that I had the chance to visit on Monday evening, thanks to the initiative of the San Diego Brain Club. Jacopo is welcoming and passionate about his mission – and what a mission. If you go to the website of the Brain Observatory – soon to be revamped – you will see that what they do there is by all means a delicate job: they collect the brain of dead people, they freeze them in gelatin, they slice them in very thin slices (one brain gives roughly 2500 slices), they dye the slices to reveal some features such as for instance the level of myelination around the axons, and then using a microscope, they observe and digitalize the slices one by one. At the end, they have an extremely detailed 3D map of the brain, with a much better resolution than what fMRI can offer. They have done this for instance with the brain of the famous H.M., who lost his episodic memory as a consequence of lobotomy. As Jacopo says on its website: “We are building a library for the human brain, creating the potential to illustrate the detailed design of the brain, how its microscopic structure reflects who we are, and how the relationship between structure and behavior changes as we age or as we face the progression of neurological disease”. The Brain Observatory would not exist without brain donors. As you can imagine, to harvest the brain of donors is a very delicate kind of job, especially when those donors are still alive and in some cases gravely ill. But for the little I have seen, I have the deep feeling that Jacopo does it gracefully, generously and gratefully. He deserves to be thanked because of what he does but also because of the way he does it and communicates about it to the general public, welcoming laymen in his lab, including school children.
I wish you and your family a great Thanksgiving !