UTHSC Prof Focuses on Anesthesia Research with $327,340 NIH Grant

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Dr. Ralph Lydic’s research grant from the NIH, in the amount of $327,340, will allow him (right), his collaborator, Dr. Helen Baghdoyan (left) and their research team to study how the brain regulates various states of consciousness such as sleep, anesthesia, and pain.
Dr. Ralph Lydic’s research grant from the NIH, in the amount of $327,340, will allow him (right), his collaborator, Dr. Helen Baghdoyan (left) and their research team to study how the brain regulates various states of consciousness such as sleep, anesthesia, and pain.

Anesthesiology is a practice that helps eliminate pain for almost 20 million patients in the United States who undergo surgery every year, according to experts. However, the way the drugs eliminate waking consciousness in the brain is still unknown. Ralph Lydic, PhD, his collaborator Helen A. Baghdoyan, PhD, and their research team focus on understanding how the brain regulates various states of consciousness and the role anesthesia plays in those states.

Dr. Lydic is the Robert H. Cole Professor of Neuroscience in the Graduate School of Medicine, a College of Medicine campus that is part of the University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC). He is also co-director of anesthesiology research and of the anesthesia research laboratory at the University of Tennessee Medical Center, Knoxville (UTMCK). UTMCK is one of UTHSC’s core teaching hospital partners. The UT Knoxville campus also benefits from Dr. Lydic’s expertise as a professor in the Department of Psychology, College of Arts and Sciences. Drs. Lydic and Baghdoyan were recruited to UTHSC and transferred their $327,340 grant from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, a subsidiary of the National Institutes of Health.

The award will be used to support a project titled, “Cholinergic Phenotype in Murine Models of Sleep.” It will be distributed over a year.

“Anesthesia was named by the New England Journal of Medicine as one of the most significant medical advances in the past 1,000 years,” explained Dr. Lydic. “Everyone who has surgery wants it, but we still don’t know how the drugs make us unconscious and eliminate the perception of pain. Understanding exactly how the drugs work is an important step toward eliminating problems like itching, nausea and vomiting after surgery, and post-operative cognitive decline in some older patients.”

Sleep and anesthesia are different states of consciousness but share some similar traits such as depressed breathing, poor control of body temperature, and the mental activity of dreaming. Discoveries by Dr. Lydic and Dr. Baghdoyan, a Beaman Professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, have led anesthesia researchers around the world to use states of sleep as a tool for efforts to understand states of anesthesia.

“Sleep influences many functions and illnesses,” said Dr. Baghdoyan. “It impacts our exercise, nutrition, cardiovascular health, immune functions, emotions, learning, memory, and our overall sense of well-being. Sleep is one of the cornerstones of good health, yet if you talk with anyone who has spent a few nights in the hospital, they commonly report that they can’t sleep through the night. There must be ways to improve sleep in the hospital, and to promote the concept of sleep health as an essential component of medicine.”

The National Institutes of Health (NIH), the nation’s medical research agency, includes 27 Institutes and Centers and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. NIH is the primary federal agency conducting and supporting basic, clinical, and translational medical research, and is investigating the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and its programs, visit www.nih.gov.