2020 Stetten Lecture

Rethinking General Anesthesia

Emery N. Brown, M.D., Ph.D.

Warren M. Zapol Professor of Anaesthesia
Harvard Medical School/ Massachusetts General Anesthesia

Edward Hood Taplin Professor of Medical Engineering and Computational Neuroscience
Massachusetts Institute of Technology

NIH Videocast
Start Date:
11/18/2020 3:00 PM ET
End Date:
11/18/2020 4:00 PM ET

Videocast Link​​​​

Research Summary

Doctors have employed general anesthesia for more than 165 years in the United States, and more than 100,000 Americans receive this medical treatment each day for surgery. Still, how anesthetic drugs work has long remained a mystery. Emery N. Brown, M.D., Ph.D.​, is an anesthesiologist and statistician whose research has helped explain the way these drugs act in the brain. His lab studies arousal states in general anesthesia and sedation, which involves developing a detailed understanding of the neural circuitry of the brain stem, thalamus, and cortex.

Dr. Brown’s discoveries have led to new ways of monitoring patients’ brain states during general anesthesia, as well as strategies for drug dosing and precisely controlling the anesthetic state. He has also developed signal processing algorithms and statistical methods that characterize the dynamic properties of neuroscience data. Long-term goals of his research include establishing a neurophysiological definition of anesthesia and developing safer, site-specific anesthetic drugs and better methods for measuring depth of anesthesia.

Dr. Brown received his B.A. in applied mathematics from Harvard College in 1978, his M.A. in statistics from Harvard University in 1984, his M.D. from Harvard Medical School in 1987, and his Ph.D. in statistics from Harvard University in 1988. He completed his internship in internal medicine at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital and his residency in anesthesiology at the Harvard Medical School Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH).

In 1992, Dr. Brown joined Harvard Medical School and MGH as the Warren M. Zapol Professor of Anaesthesia. He joined the faculty at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 2005 as the Edward Hood Taplin Professor of Medical Engineering and of Computational Neuroscience. Dr. Brown is the director of the Harvard-MIT Health Sciences and Technology Program, the associate director of the Institute for Medical Engineering and Science at MIT, and an investigator at the Picower Center for Learning and Memory in the department of brain and cognitive sciences at MIT. He has received many honors, including an NIH Director’s Pioneer Award in 2007 and an NIH Director’s Transformative Research Award in 2012. He was also a member of the NIH BRAIN Initiative Working Group.

NIGMS began supporting Dr. Brown’s work in 1996, when he was awarded a grant for statistical analysis of circadian rhythms. He currently receives NIGMS funding through grants P01GM118269 and R25GM116705. Dr. Brown has also received NIH support from the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering, the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the National Institute of Mental Health, the National Institute on Aging, and the Office of the Director.

Headshot of Dr. Emery N. Brown
Photo Credit: Picower Institute.