If you have been paying attention, you might have been hearing a rise in stories related to brains in the media (I will be blogging about some of them soon). This is because this has been Brain Awareness Week. My first (ever) post on a blog (now defunct and reborn here) was indeed one describing my last year’s experience organizing for the 3rd time the Open Brain Day at the University of Auckland.
A year has gone by, and I am sitting at this year’s Brain Day that is being held at the Business School’s Owen Glenn Building at the University of Auckland. This year we are also celebrating the launch of the Centre of Brain Research, which launched towards the end of last year, finally replacing the Auckland Neuroscience Network.
For the first time, I can look at the day without the pressure of running after a myriad of details. And this year we are bigger, longer and uncut. (Well, the latter not so true since we have some cut brains to show you what they look like on the inside).
If you have come to brain open days before, check it out again. If you haven’t then this would be a great time to start.
I would imagine that being able to work with human brain tissue would be difficult enough, but doing so in New Zealand has its added hurdles. As a foreigner, I was not initially aware of the cultural implications of being able to source and work with human brain tissue.
Some issues surrounding the use of human brain tissue in New Zealand were raised in an article in Science Magazine in 2007. For Māori
“the head and brain are tapu,” a sacred body part that must not be tampered with.
Working with human brain tissue, therefore raises ethical implications that are quite unique to New Zealand.
Is the value of the research sufficient to justify a breach of tapu?
When Melanie Cheung began working on her PhD project in Huntington’s disease, she was confronted with this very specific question, and embarked on finding a solution. The solution was found in the development of tikanga appropriate for the research needs.
According to the 2006 Census, Māori are the second largest ethnic group in New Zealand representing 14.6% of the population, and Māori culture forms an integral part of the country. It is therefore not surprising that it also influences the way we do science. Overcoming barriers through open dialogue and consultation and a willingness to understand cultural differences has been fundamental to the progress of human neuroscience research in New Zealand.
The Centre for Brain Research at the University of Auckland will be launched on November 6th 2009. The Centre is led by Professor Richard Faull, and is brings together the large group of neuroscience researchers at the University, the neurologists and neurosurgeons at the Auckland District Health Boards, and the community groups that serve those in New Zealand affected by neurological disease. (more…)