Emit: To give off light or energy
Florescence: (1) Absorption of a particular color of light followed by emission of a different color of light, giving a glowing appearance. (2) Emission of light giving a glowing appearance.
Seizure: Fast and uncontrollable shaking of a person's body
Symptoms: (1) How you look or feel when sick; like a fever or rash. (2) Changes in your body or behavior when you are sick.
Note: This activity deals with advanced, potentially sensitive topics. We advise it be reserved for students in middle school or higher grades.
Your brain is made of billions of cells. These cells communicate with each other so you can see, hear, smell, taste, move, and even think. In very rare cases, cells change in bad ways and mutate. Mutations can make the cells grow uncontrollably so that they form a mass in the brain—a brain tumor. Brain tumors can cause many different symptoms depending on where they are in the brain. Some common symptoms include vomiting, weakness, seizures, headaches, and even changes in personality. They can also make it harder to walk, talk, see, and remember things.
Doctors can treat brain tumors many ways. One method is brain surgery. During surgery, a doctor opens the skull and physically cuts out the tumor from the brain. This is called surgical resection. The tumor can also be treated with a chemical mix called chemotherapy. Chemotherapy is toxic and can slow the growth of tumor cells, or kill them. A third option is radiation therapy. In this method, radiation energy is used to kill tumor cells. In many cases, a patient will receive all three treatments (surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation).
Surgery is often the main treatment used. Doctors who do brain surgery are called neurosurgeons and they go through many years of training. Physical removal of a tumor can be hard because tumor tissue can look similar to healthy brain tissue. Doctors want to remove as much of the tumor as possible. However, they have to be very careful because they do not want to hurt or remove any healthy brain.
How do doctors tell the difference between good and bad tissue? Before surgery, doctors will get detailed images of the brain by scanning the head with a CT or MRI machine. These images act like a map for doctors during surgery. Recent medical advances have also allowed doctors to label tumors with fluorescent tags that make the tumor “light up” during surgery. With the help of these fluorescent tags, doctors can visualize tumors. This makes it easier to find and cut out only the bad tissue. Try your hand at new tricks that brain surgeons use. See how much of the tumor you can cut out doing surgery when it is lit up with labels.
Before the surgery, review the different parts of the brain and what each part does. To do so, read through the articles What's in Your Brain? and What's Your Brain Doing? on Ask A Biologist.
It is especially important for brain surgeons to know what different parts of the brain do. If a certain part of the brain is injured, a patient can lose their memory or lose certain functions.
In this activity, you will be trying both old and new techniques that doctors use to remove brain tumors. First, try removing a tumor that does not fluoresce. Next, with the help of a black light, try removing a tumor that lights up.
Extension: Something went wrong during surgery. Your patient has lost a function. You will be given a scenario describing the patient’s symptoms. Try to figure out what part of the brain was injured during surgery.
Eugene Chung. (2015, April 21). Cutting Out Brain Tumors. ASU - Ask A Biologist. Retrieved March 29, 2023 from https://askabiologist.asu.edu/experiments/cutting-out-brain-tumors
Eugene Chung. "Cutting Out Brain Tumors". ASU - Ask A Biologist. 21 April, 2015. https://askabiologist.asu.edu/experiments/cutting-out-brain-tumors
Eugene Chung. "Cutting Out Brain Tumors". ASU - Ask A Biologist. 21 Apr 2015. ASU - Ask A Biologist, Web. 29 Mar 2023. https://askabiologist.asu.edu/experiments/cutting-out-brain-tumors
This activity has a companion article on nerves and the brain. A Nervous Journey takes students on a quick ride from their brain to their toes where they learn about the nervous system and the brain.
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