Investigators to Assess the Association between Anesthesia Exposure and Cognitive Deficits

SmartTots announced Robert Block, PhD and Caleb Ing, MD as the recipients of its inaugural round of research grants today. The research grants are intended to support investigations into the existence of a clinical signal suggesting poor neurocognitive outcomes as the result of early exposure to anesthesia. Drs. Block and Ing will be conducting separate studies both centered around determining the effects of anesthetics on early brain development. Both recipients will receive $100,000 to fund their studies.

Laboratory studies in infant animals show that general anesthesia may produce harmful changes in the central nervous system, resulting in impaired cognitive development with long-term consequences. Currently, sufficient evidence to suggest whether the same phenomenon occurs in humans does not exist. Generating the necessary evidence to make this determination is an important matter of public health and the primary focus of the SmartTots research initiative.

Dr. Block, Associate Professor of Anesthesia at the University of Iowa, aims to evaluate the hypothesis that exposure to general anesthesia and surgery during infancy affects brain and cognitive development. He will compare adolescents with anesthesia and surgery exposure to unexposed, but otherwise matched, control subjects. Patients studied will have been exposed to anesthesia during operations that would not normally be associated with subsequent central nervous system problems or risk factors.

“The SmartTots grant provides vital funds to expand my preliminary research in the area of possible anesthetic neurotoxicity during infancy,” said Dr. Block. “Cognitive testing in our study will include a test battery suitable for human use which has been developed by the FDA and demonstrated to be sensitive to anesthesia-induced impairments in primates. This should help us fill a critical gap in knowledge concerning whether negative effects occur in humans.”

Dr. Ing, Assistant Professor of Anesthesia at Columbia University, will use his grant to assess the association between neuropsychological deficits at age 10 and the duration of exposure to volatile anesthetics in children who received anesthesia when they were younger than 3 years of age. This project will study children enrolled in a Western Australian birth cohort and evaluate the differences in language, cognitive function, motor skills and behavior in children who have and have not been exposed to anesthesia.

“Our research aims to determine the relationship between duration of anesthetic exposure and cognitive effects, as well as clarify the role of baseline disease and anesthetic exposure in producing neurocognitive deficits.” said Dr. Ing. “Our results will help physicians and parents make clinical decisions regarding anesthesia and surgery in young children.”

The research grants awarded by SmartTots were made possible by a research contribution from the International Anesthesia Research Society (IARS). The IARS and SmartTots are dedicated to funding research needed to determine the safety of anesthetics and ensure the safest treatments are available for children.