Seeking clues about how anesthesia numbs the brain

March 09, 2011

IN THE NEWS: An article about how anesthesia works on the brain in Science News included Dr. Michael Alkire, who studies the neural biology of anesthesia at UC Irvine. Alkire says that by knowing how anesthetics affect different brain areas, researchers may be able to develop new therapies or find ways to customize treatments. He foresees a day when a patient’s genes are analyzed before surgery to determine sensitivity to drugs or potential to suffer certain side effects.

“If you know that a patient is very anxious, and maybe that anxiety is related to the amygdala function in the brain, you might want to use a different agent or anesthetic for that case,” he says.

Understanding how anesthetics work in the brain could also lead to entirely new ways of creating anesthetic states. Future anesthesia may rely on "Star Trek"-like devices with energy fields capable of disrupting key circuits, for example.

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