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June 28, 2011 / Dr. Toad

Children’s neurosurgery at the Science on Tap

You have to pay attention when a guy stands in front of a microphone in a pub and instead of singing karaoke says: “Twenty minutes ago I had to take a shunt out of someone’s brain.” And what have you done today?

Last night I went to Science on Tap for the first time despite living in Seattle for a year now. The Ravenna series is held in Third Place Pub on the last Monday of every month. June’s was an intimate event with maybe twenty people having dinner and drinking some of the 18 brews they have on tap in the basement level of this reclaimed-wood-decorated bar. But organizers Jennifer and Gretchen, who have been running the series for over seven years, say sometimes the place gets standing-room-only packed on a Science on Tap night.

Sam Browd, assistant professor of neurological surgery at UW and director of the hydrocephalus program at Seattle Children’s Hospital, was talking about his work there last night to the small but diverse audience. Hydrocephalus, caused by an inability to reabsorb cerebrospinal fluid, is the number one reason for brain surgery in children. The treatment is to implant a shunt that will drain the fluid from the brain usually to the abdomen, where it can get reabsorbed. The problem is that the silicone shunts fail at an alarmingly high rate, causing life-threatening emergencies and surgery after surgery for the long-suffering patients. It is frustrating also for surgeons whose best work is thwarted by an imperfect device. So Browd is leading an effort to develop and commercialize a new electromechanical shunt with diagnostic features and infection-reducing properties.

I’m a big fan of the beer-and-conversation format of Science on Tap. It clearly jibed with the crowd too — people didn’t hesitate to ask all kinds of questions, no matter if only tangentially related. I will definitely go again and would recommend it to anybody. Science Cafes happen monthly also in Lower Queen Anne on the first Tuesday, in Tacoma on the first Thursday, and in Kirkland on the second Monday. Details of upcoming events are on the calendar, and at Science on Tap, and on the Pacific Science Center webpage.

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