How safe is anesthesia for children?

The Medical College of Wisconsin (MCW) has received a five-year, $1.4 million grant from the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute of General Medical Sciences to determine the role of microRNAs in damage to the nervous system in some children and fetuses who have been exposed to anesthetic.

Xiaowen Bai, MD, PhD, assistant professor of anesthesiology, is the principal investigator of the grant. Zeljko J. Bosnjak, PhD, professor of anesthesiology and physiology; and Allison D. Ebert, PhD, assistant professor of cell biology, neurobiology and anatomy are co-investigators.

Evidence suggests that general anesthetics induce neuronal cell death followed by long-term memory and learning disability in animals, which raises serious concerns about the safety of obstetric and pediatric anesthesia. 

MicroRNAs are endogenous, small, non-coding RNAs that are powerful regulators in physiology and disease through prevention of target gene expression. In this project, Dr. Bai and her team will examine the role of microRNAs in anesthetic-induced neurotoxicity in mice and translate the findings to humans using stem cell-derived neurons, which will help prevent the effects of anesthetic-induced neurotoxicity by identifying microRNA signaling pathways.

The ultimate goal of this project is to develop neuroprotection strategies to increase the safety of anesthesia in pediatric patients.

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