Posted in Uncategorized by kalbing on March 23, 2009

With an undergrad population of 6,000+, it’s tough work keeping track of the goings-on of your fellow Loyolans (go Ramblers!!!!!) I mean, you’ve got the ‘book, but that can only take you so far. Luckily for you, we directly engage your classmates so that you don’t have to. And believe you us, they’ve got a lot to say. Introducing: Student Body Slam! Every week, we’ll interview undergrads whose lives are more interesting than yours. (Unless they’re not. In which case contact us at

Today, we chat it up with Tina Dragisic,and Brandon Wisinski, 21, two science kids who spend the vast majority of their week in the corner of a Life Science Center lab carving up rat brains with what looks like a deli meat slicer. Right.

As you read this, imagine a sort of dull, humming “chick-chick-chick” sound in the background. That’s the sound of the metal slicer slicing off bits of tiny rat brain, which fly up in the air like pink coconut shavings.

BW and TD pose with their cryostat.
Phoenix Diversions: What are you doing right now, Brandon?

BW: I am cross-sectioning rats brains.

PD: Mm-kay. And what do you use for that sort of work?

BW: It’s a device called a cryostat; it keeps things below -15 degrees. It’s basically the idea of keeping things cryogenically frozen, prohibiting any kind of enzymatic activity, preserving the brain so that you have the ability to section it into very small pieces.

Tina Dragisic: It’s like a meat slicer.

PD: Okay. And then what do you do with the brains?

TD: You cut them in very thin slices and you put them on slides.

BW: You actually thaw them onto the slides so they dry and can be—

TD: We’re not writing a procedure for someone, Brandon.

PD: No, that’s fine. That’s fascinating. So what do you do with the slides?

BW: They’re going to be put through a series of different probes. We’ll be looking at certain specific genes that were given a stressful situation.

PH: Wait. You—you stress the brain?

BW: The rats were stressed when they were alive.

PH: Were. So you’re staring into the past.

BW: In a sense. We believe that stress is something that can be permanently embedded, kind of like a CD—what’s being recorded onto a CD is a permanent change, much like in the brain. There are changes that are permanently engraved that affect our behavior, like the amount of stress we go through.

PD: So a human being is basically a robot with a CD brain.

TD: You have stressful situations, and you will continue to be affected by those. There’s a change in you. It’s like when you fall and scrape your knee, you keep a scar.

BW: We’re studying post-traumatic stress—a traumatic experience that we can see in the behavior of a person.

TD: It’s not just war veterans who have this—you can have post-traumatic stress disorder when you’ve been through a car crash, or are a victim of rape or abuse. But it was first thought of, first prominently seen and recorded after Vietnam.

PH: Yeah. So, does the brain ever fly up and hit you in the face by accident? The brain dust, I mean—it looks like coconut shavings.

Rat brain, half-chopped.

Rat brain, half-chopped.

TD: Oh, all the time. That’s how Juan lost an eye.

BW: They’re basically fat. Your brain is made up of mostly fat. Does it fly up? Generally not, because out here, the temperature is warmer—so it thaws mid-air and flops back down.

PD: Thank goodness for that. The first time you did this, were you creeped out about cutting up brains?

BW: No, it’s not that traumatic for me, I guess you could say.

PD: How does it feel? Is the brain thick or thin or smooth?

[At this point, BW said I could carve up the brain myself. I basically pumped a jack-in the-box like crank and the blade carved thin slices of the bubble-gun colored frozen brain. It felt like carving bologna.]

PD: Now, you have to carve 40 brains in a week. How long does that take you?

BW: Actually I just set a new record—I carved up two brains in one hour.

PD: Do you fantasize about anything as you carve brains?

BW: With enough practice. I’ve done a lot of these. I get lost in the music. When you don’t have music, that’s when you tend to get lost in your own thoughts.

TD: And the machines get louder…and louder.

BW, monitoring his cryostat.

BW, monitoring his cryostat.

PD: Do you ever think about your own mortality and what will become of your brain?

BW: If this were actually to happen to my brain, there’s a little part of me that would be quite happy.

PD: So how do you stress the rats? Do you smack ‘em?

BW: We do a water pill injection, which causes them to urinate, and then we deprive them of sodium, which puts physiological stress on the body. We also restrain them for a period of two hours.

TD: Imagine yourself being wrapped up as a burrito.

PD: Do you kill the rats?

TD: We all do. We call them ‘sacrifices.’ But it’s not like we’re creepy demonic worshipers…all the time. Everyone calls them ‘sacrifices.’

BW: I consider them being sacrificed for science. They’re bred for science.

TD: We treat the animals well though, and make sure they’re properly fed and cared for.

BW: And you know, there’s no way you could do this on people. Until something better comes along, this is the only way to do it.

PD: Do you remove the brains yourself?

BW: Yes, I hold them in my hands.

PD: So you play with rat, you kill it; you guide it through its entire life cycle.

TD: Yes, but keep in mind, we go through so many precautions to make sure these animals are treated well. And ultimately, this is for people. This is to better the lives of people.


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