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May 15, 2017

Insight from a Sheep

by Jordan Chapman

It’s a common fact that the cerebral cortex—making up the outer layer of neural tissue of the human brain—provides the highest functions of human cognition, like thought and action. What’s not so well known is that—aside from that wrinkled outermost layer—your brain isn’t so different from that of an average sheep.

“The sheep brain is identical, though much smaller, to the human brain up to the level of the brain stem, which is where all of the cranial nerves that control motor speech are located,” said Robert Goldfarb, Ph.D., an aphasiologist and professor in the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders in Adelphi’s Ruth S. Ammon School of Education. “It’s remarkable to see.” And seeing it couldn’t be easier.

While sheep brain dissection at Adelphi is nothing new, Dr. Goldfarb—who teaches on aphasia, advanced anatomy, physiology, neurology and research design—recently produced a video to illustrate proper approach when it comes to sheep brain wet work. The video’s primary audience are master’s and Ph.D. level students taking advanced anatomy, physiology and neurology courses within the language pathology curriculums at Adelphi.

“It’s not something that’s technically so difficult when students have proper guidance,” Dr. Goldfarb said.

The practical assignment replaces a lesson that students otherwise might have taken from a textbook, Dr. Goldfarb notes, and will aid graduates later as they conduct therapy sessions. “These kinds of dissections allow students to better appreciate where the motor control in humans originates because they’re handling the human brain in an identical but miniaturized version,” he said.

In the video and in class, Dr. Goldfarb even explains the origin of and the effects of a brain stem stroke—a left pontine CVA—something he suffered himself in June 2013. “That’s convenient in the sheep brain because the brain stem is the part identical in humans,” he said.

The fact that Dr. Goldfarb survived the sort of attack he teaches about—one that can lead to disorders he literally wrote the book on (Language and Motor Speech Disorders in Adults, Third Edition; Halpern and Goldfarb, 2013)—is perhaps the ultimate teachable moment.

Dr. Goldfarb recounted his struggles in a 2016 TEDx talk at Adelphi that can be viewed online. He also wrote a detailed accounting of the events leading up to his attack and the ups and downs of his rehabilitation in the journal Asphasiology.

Dr. Goldfarb’s expertise in speech and language pathology often bridges that gap and is translatable into fields like neuroscience research. For instance, he noted that MRI and CT scans are often considered the last word in many diagnoses but can also result in false positives.

“Instead of just looking at the brain, you should start using auditory measures, in effect listening to the brain,” Dr. Goldfarb said. “There are mathematical principles used in Doppler profiling for undersea research that you can also use when examining arteries in the brain.”

This form of listening is currently used for Parkinson’s Disease patients to complete deep brain stimulation. And while the technology isn’t currently available for stroke victims, Dr. Goldfarb is certain it’s on the way.

“If we can do this and measure the middle cerebral artery—where strokes can cause speech and language problems—we’d really have a leg up on the kinds of treatments doctors need to start and which not to start,” he said. “The wrong treatment can result in catastrophic results.”

“This is a much broader field than our students realize and we’re sure to let them know,” Dr. Goldfarb said. “It allows for a lot of creativity.”


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