The Neuropathology Night: A New Bridge for Pre-Med Students

June 10, 2016

Many UCSB pre-med students choose to build their professional foundations at the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, the only department on this campus that investigates the brain at all levels – from its molecular dynamics to perception and behavior. Its Biopsychology major has become a hub for future physicians intending to specialize in neurology, neuropsychiatry, and related fields. The major offers rigorous courses in neuroanatomy, neuropharmacology, and neurodevelopment, and excelling undergraduates can take some of these courses at the graduate level.

Since UCSB does not have a medical school, this deep theoretical knowledge can not be easily extended to clinical applications. In order to gain exposure to the medical field, students volunteer or work in hospitals, but they often have limited opportunities to engage in discussions with doctors making diagnostic and treatment decisions.

This year a major attempt was made to rectify this situation. Professor Skirmantas Janusonis and his group initiated, organized, and hosted the Neuropathology Night, the first-ever neuropathology event for pre-med students on our campus. Sixteen Biopsychology students prepared in-depth presentations of human neuropathology cases, which included brain tumors, hemorrhages, concussions, Down syndrome, Alzheimer’s disease, and others. Discussions were led by Dr. Stewart Comer, a neuropathologist at Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital, who also made a presentation about the present and future of the field. Brain specimens, representing each of the cases, were available for viewing.

The presenters were Anne Brow, Kyle Cartier, George Hernandez, Brian James, Emily Lara, Kiana Lee, Scott Lunell, Gold Okafor, Elizabeth Sarkis, Urvashi Singh, Alexander Smolentsev, Mali Suzuki, Gabriella Torres, Courtney Uselton, Marcus Vicari, and Megan Wong.

Marcus Vicari also played a major role in organizing the event (Marcus is a research assistant in the Janusonis Laboratory and a Community Service Chair of the Mu Delta pre-med fraternity). All students demonstrated a high level of skill navigating not only human neuroanatomy but also specialized medical terminology beyond the central nervous system. The event proved that such efforts are timely and that they can naturally bridge two next-door giants, UCSB and Cottage Hospital, early in the careers of future medical professionals.

The Night took place on May 31, in the SAGE Center room, and was attended by approximately 50 people, mostly undergraduate and graduate students. It has generated much excitement and a strong momentum, which nearly ensures the continuation of this event next year. Professor Janusonis expresses his appreciation to Dr. Stewart Comer (Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital), Dr. Richard Beswick (Vice President of Research and Chief Research Officer at Cottage Health), and Professor and Chair of the Department of Psychological & Brain Sciences, Diane Mackie, whose support was essential.