Debunked: A Century-Old Theory of How Anesthesia Works

Debunked: A Century-Old Theory of How Anesthesia Works

Every year, millions of Americans are able to experience a painless surgery with the help of anesthesia, even though most don’t really know how anesthesia works. Each day, Steel City Anesthesia helps administer anesthesia to Ambulatory Surgery Centers, and hospitals and doctors’ offices across Pennsylvania, Ohio, and West Virginia. Although it is extremely common and vital to the world of medicine, there is constant research to find out exactly how anesthesia works. The most common theory is that anesthetics block neural function by disrupting fat molecules in the cell membranes. However, new research from a study done by Weill Cornell Medicine may have debunked a century-old theory of how anesthesia works.

Co-researcher Dr. Hugh Hemmings, chair of the Department of Anesthesiology at Weill Cornell Medicine, discusses the new findings saying they have debunked a century-old theory of how anesthesia works and, “Finally have proof that these anesthetics must have a direct effect on integral membrane proteins – and not an indirect effect on proteins through the lipid bilayer – to put patients in a coma-like state, allowing them to undergo painful procedures with no memory or pain.”

This new evidence supports the idea that anesthesia does not affect the lipid bilayer, which is the part of the cell membrane that is made up of fat. The new findings show rather than interacting indirectly through the membrane itself, anesthetics interact directly with membrane proteins, which inhibit electrical communications between neurons, which triggers unconsciousness.

Researchers in this study reconstructed a model cell surrounded by thin membrane in order to determine the biological mechanism behind anesthesia. Thirteen different anesthetic agents were tested using a technique developed by by Dr. Olaf Andersen, a professor of physiology and biophysics at Weill Cornell Medicine, and Dr. Helgi Ingólfsson, Ph.D. The results showed that none of the anesthetics tested affected the lipid bilayer properties.

“That was a very surprising result,” said Dr. Andersen. “When we started conducting the experiments I was convinced we would see some effect on the bilayer. The fact that the results are as clean as they are was to me really amazing.”

While there is still more research to be done on this topic, these results are groundbreaking in the world of anesthesia. Researchers are always hoping to learn more, and this study may have just “debunked” a century old theory of how anesthesia works. As we focus on patient care and achieving industry leading satisfaction ratings,  having a better understanding of the mechanisms behind anesthesia can lead to the development of new anesthetic agents with less undesirable side effects.