Advances in Anesthesia: Being asleep while being awake

By Shelly Hwang

This past winter, I had the opportunity to work as what you would call, a nurse’s assistant. Basically, I cleaned hospital beds. But during this glamorous experience I was able to see nurses and doctors interact with patients before and after surgery. One of the key issues that repeatedly came up was anesthesia. Patients would be asked questions such as “are you allergic to any medications?” and “have you had any reactions to anesthesia before?” before entering surgery. Afterwards, their vitals would be closely monitored to ensure they return to their normal state after the anesthesia wore off.

Anesthesia is essential for its frequent use in otherwise painful surgical and medical procedures. However, anesthesia is not without its flaws. While anesthesia helps to achieve nerve blocks that can eliminate the feeling of pain, it often affects and impairs motor function. This is why patients are often unconscious, immobile, and sometimes unable to breathe on their own. A recent press release reports on a study conducted by a group of researches at the Children’s Hospital Boston. The researchers, led by Daniel Kohane, MD, PhD, of the Division of Critical Care Medicine at Children’s were originally studying surfactants, naturally-occurring agents that allow drugs to travel more easily through tissue, that would prolong the effects of anesthesia. However, to the surprise of the researchers, they discovered a potential new approach to anesthesia that would prolong the effects of anesthesia without causing a motor block.

While testing three types of surfactants along with anesthetics, the researchers found that sensory block in rats’ nerves were lengthened for up to 7 hours or more, but in many cases the rats did not experience motor impairment or experienced it for a very short duration. What’s next is figuring out the mechanism by which this approach works, and looking at the effects of other drugs and chemicals that may be used in anesthesia. If this approach proves to work on humans, it would have a monumental impact on the fields of anesthesia and medicine. From allowing women in labor to receive anesthesia while giving birth, to relieving individuals with musculoskeletal disorders from pain while allowing for the maintenance of  mobility, this anesthetic approach would bridge the gap between relief of pain and motor ability.

For more information.

Anesthesia at the Children’s Hospital Boston.

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