Rethinking General Anesthesia

  • Speaker
  • Emery N. Brown, M.D., Ph.D.Edward Hood Taplin Professor of Medical Engineering and professor of computational neuroscience, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
    Warren M. Zapol Professor of Anaesthesia, Harvard Medical School
Date & Time

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General anesthesia is a drug-induced, reversible condition comprised of five behavioral states: unconsciousness, amnesia (loss of memory), antinociception (loss of pain sensation), akinesia (immobility), and hemodynamic stability with control of the stress response.

In this lecture, Emery Brown will discuss work by him and his colleagues showing that a primary mechanism through which anesthetics create these altered states of arousal is by initiating and maintaining highly structured oscillations. These oscillations impair communication among brain regions. Brown and collaborators illustrate this effect by presenting human and non-human primate studies using high-density EEG and intracranial recordings. These studies have allowed them to give a detailed characterization of the neurophysiology of loss and recovery of consciousness due to propofol, and more recently, ketamine. In addition, they show how these dynamics change systematically with different anesthetic classes and with age.

Consequently, they have developed a principled, neuroscience-based paradigm for using the EEG to monitor the brain states of patients receiving general anesthesia. In addition, they demonstrate that the state of general anesthesia can be rapidly reversed by activating specific brain circuits. Finally, they show that the state of general anesthesia can be controlled using closed-loop feedback control systems. The success of their research has depended critically on tight coupling of experiments, signal processing research and mathematical modeling.

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About the Speaker

Brown is the Warren M. Zapol Professor of Anaesthesia at Harvard Medical School, an anesthesiologist at Massachusetts General Hospital, and the Edward Hood Taplin Professor of Medical Engineering and Computational Neuroscience at MIT. He received his B.A. in applied mathematics (magna cum laude) from Harvard College, his M.A. and Ph.D. in statistics from Harvard University and his M.D. (magna cum laude) from Harvard Medical School. Brown is an anesthesiologist-statistician whose research is defining the neuroscience of how anesthetics produce general anesthesia. He also develops statistical methods for neuroscience data analysis. Brown has received an NIH Director’s Pioneer Award, the Sacks Prize from the National Institute of Statistical Science, the American Society of Anesthesiologists Excellence in Research Award, the Dickson Prize in Science, the Swartz Prize for Theoretical and Computational Neuroscience, and a Doctor of Science Honoris Causa from the University of Southern California. He is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts Sciences and the National Academy of Inventors. Brown is a member of the National Academy of Medicine, National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering.

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