MIT’s Emery Brown Hopes to Unlock the Mysteries of Anesthesia

Emery N. Brown, a professor of health sciences and technology and professor of computational neuroscience at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, recently coauthored a paper in the New England Journal of Medicine detailing current knowledge on the science of anesthesia.

General anesthesia was first administered by a Boston dentist in 1846. While the process has been refined over the ensuing 165 years, there are still many unknowns about what happens to the brain of patients who are under anesthesia. The process does not produce a state of sleep, as is commonly thought. Rather, Brown says that anesthesia is essentially a “reversible coma.”

Research in this area is important because 60,000 people are anesthetized every day in the United States and one person dies about every four days from causes directly related to anesthesia.

Professor Brown is conducting research recording electrical brain activity of animals and humans given general anesthesia in the hope of understanding how the process affects neurological processes. He hopes his research will lead to more effective and safer drugs for anesthesia.

Dr. Brown is a 1978 graduate of Harvard College and a 1987 graduate of Harvard Medical School. He also holds a master’s degree and a Ph.D. in statistics from Harvard University.