By Amanda Rose Martinez

A Wednesday morning in Loeb Laboratory found the 2011 Summer Program in Neuroscience, Ethics & Survival (SPINES) students getting a lesson on the human brain. There to lead the cerebral tour was SPINES faculty member, Dr. Alfredo Quiñones-Hinojosa, a neurosurgeon, world expert on brain tumors and associate professor at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

Quiñones-Hinojosa described each brain region, all the while weaving in stories of their function and the history of their discovery. His pace was swift and rich with information, alive with his enduring fascination for what he calls “the most beautiful organ.” As he went, Quiñones-Hinojosa fired off questions to SPINES’ neuroscientists-in-training, compelling them to keep up.

“So where is memory formation?” Quiñones-Hinojosa asked. “Memory formation is right here in the hippocampus. So you can take one hippocampus out. What happens if you take them both out? No new memories. You can have the old memories, but no new ones.”

“You can barely see the curve right here,” he continued, tracing his way through the limbic system to a small, almond-shaped region called the amygdala. “That’s how movies play with us. They show you the movie “Silence of the Lambs” and they make you afraid. They make you feel fear for your life. They’re right here. They’re playing to the amygdala.”

At one point, Quiñones-Hinojosa paused to address the moment’s larger significance: “I get to touch human brains and human lives,” he said. “Not only do I give people hope in the operating room, but outside of the operating room, I get to do research. And I give them hope that one day we’ll find a cure for brain cancer. And then I come here and hang out with you guys. I mean this is the coolest thing I could do in the world.”

On Friday, July 8, Quiñones-Hinojosa will give a lecture entitled: “Bridging the Gap in the Fight Against Cancer: From the Operating Room to the Laboratory,” as part of the Friday Evening Lecture Series. The event will take place in Lillie Auditorium at 8:00 p.m. For more information, visit: http://www.mbl.edu/events/events_friday_07_08_11.html. Quiñones-Hinojosa’s lecture is supported by the Joe L. Martinez, Jr. and James G. Townsel Endowed Lectureship.

Keith Trujillo, co-director of SPINES, with students during a class led by Alfredo Quiñones-Hinojosa. Photo by Tom Kleindinst