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Growing evidence suggests exposure to anesthetic drugs during brain development may contribute to behavioral and developmental delays. Since the human brain continues to develop until approximately age seven, this evidence presents a frightening dilemma for many parents. Good news may be on the horizon. New research from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis suggests cooling the brain may prevent the death of nerve cells that has been observed in infant mice exposed to anesthesia.

The new findings are reported November 17 at Neuroscience 2008, the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience.

"Cooling the brain seems to be quite effective in suppressing nerve cell death after an infant animal has been exposed to an anesthetic drug," says John W. Olney, M.D., the study’s senior investigator and the John P. Feighner Professor of Neuropsychopharmacology. "We don’t yet know whether this cooling only temporarily suppresses or whether it permanently prevents this brain damage from occurring. We’re currently working to clarify that."

If these researchers can demonstrate cooling the brain safely and permanently prevents unhealthy neuroapoptosis due to anesthesia exposure, the technique may be useful someday in preventing cognitive and developmental problems in some children who suffer brain damage exposed to anesthesia during surgery.

Funding from the National Institutes of Health supported this research. It’s good to see that science is back in vogue.

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