Jacopo Annese: Slicing, Dicing and Digitizing Brains

How many of you have that little organ donor sticker on your driver’s license? According to the Department of Motor Vehicles, over 200,000 Californians have pledged to donate their healthy organs upon their death to people in need.

But what about donating your organs to science? The work of Jacopo Annesse, assistant professor in residence at UC San Diego’s department of Radiology and director of the The Brain Observatory, would never have gotten to where it is today without the donations of over 1,000 brains.

In 2005, Annese founded The Brain Observatory and in 2009, was given one of the most famous brain’s in medical history.

Henry Molaison, medically known as patient HM, underwent brain surgery in 1953 in an attempt to treat his severe epileptic convulsions. Although the surgery helped his seizures, from that day on he was unable to retain a memory for longer than 20 seconds.

Upon his death in 2008, he donated his brain to The Brain Observatory, with Annese at the head of the investigating team preparing to dissect and digitize the brain. In 2009, the operation finally took place but, this one brain was just the beginning, spurring the formation of the Digital Brain Library.

This project has called for the donation of 1,000 brains to be similarly dissected and digitally recorded in the hopes of creating a comprehensive catalog of the brains to serve as a virtual map of the brain’s composition. The Digital Brain Library will simultaneously record 1,000 neurological portraits that can give scientists insight on the links between biological complexities, disease, and individual or social behaviors.

Hear Annese explain his work himself in this episode of Health Matters.


Or, catch him in person at this year’s The Atlantic Meets the Pacific, presented by The Atlantic Magazine and UC San Diego Extension. The conference will be held on October 2 through 4 at Scripps Seaside Forum and Qualcomm Institute in La Jolla, California. For more information on speakers and registration, visit atlanticmeetspacific.com

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