Watch your brain on anesthesia

Written by: The Exchange

Most of us have undergone general anesthesia and remember counting back from 10, getting to about 7 before drifting off to … where exactly? What are our brains doing while under the influence of anesthesia? Typically anesthesiologists do not spend a whole lot of time pondering that question, focusing instead on basic vital signs during surgery. Computational neuroscientist and anesthesiologist Emery Brown is the exception, choosing to explore the uncharted terrain of the brain in hopes of gaining a new perspective on the very nature of human consciousness while kickstarting an overdue revolution in the way we effectively anesthetize patients—a process that, surprisingly, has not really changed much in decades. Emery’s research into the human-made, neurophysiological state of unconsciousness—essentially a drug-induced, reversible coma that prevents physical movement, eliminates the sensation of pain, and blocks the conscious memory of the surgical procedure—has earned him numerous science prizes and the honor of being one of only 21 people—and the first African American—elected to all three branches of the National Academies. Join us for this fascinating medical mystery tour of your brain on anesthesia with the world’s foremost expert.


Emery N. Brown is the Edward Hood Taplin Professor of Medical Engineering and professor of computational neuroscience at MIT, the associate director of the Institute for Medical Engineering and Science, and the co-director of the Harvard-MIT Health Sciences and Technology Program at MIT. Emery is an anesthesiologist-statistician whose methodology research develops signal processing algorithms to characterize how the brain represents and transmits information. His experimental research uses a systems neuroscience approach to study how anesthetic drugs act in the brain to create the state of general anesthesia. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, and National Academy of Medicine.

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