Ketamine showing unique potential beyond anesthesia

  • Ketamine: 50 Years of Modulating the Mind
  • Sunday, 4-5 p.m.
  • McCormick Place West, W185bc

In its 50 years of clinical use, ketamine has become established as an effective drug with unique effects on the brain that distinguish it from other anesthetics. Ketamine has also been found to be an effective antidepressant for psychiatric use, which will be examined in an education session Sunday.

George Mashour, M.D., Ph.D.

George Mashour, M.D., Ph.D.

“This session will help you appreciate how this unique drug, which came from anesthesiology, is now having an impact on other fields and how we, as anesthesiologists, might be able to make contributions to other areas of medicine. That is an interesting implication,” said George Mashour, M.D., Ph.D.

Dr. Mashour is moderator of “Ketamine: 50 Years of Modulating the Mind,” which will explore the history of this dynamic and important drug. The Bert N. LaDu Professor and Associate Chair of Anesthesiology Research at the University of Michigan, his lab is researching how ketamine affects brain networks.

“I am interested in consciousness — why it is we are conscious and what anesthetics do in the brain to suppress consciousness while also allowing a lot of other brain functions to carry on,” said Dr. Mashour, who also is Director of the Center for Consciousness Science at the University of Michigan Medical School. “We look at various forms of connectivity in the brain, not the way neurons are wired together, per se, but the way they function together, the way they communicate with one another.”

Much of that research focuses on how anesthetics affect communication within the brain.

The session’s second speaker, Laszlo Vutskits, M.D., of the Department of Anesthesiology, Pharmacology and Intensive Care at University Hospitals of Geneva, Switzerland, will discuss how ketamine interfaces with psychiatry, where it is used to treat depression.

“Ketamine has been studied by psychiatrists because it can mimic psychosis or disorders of thought. What was found incidentally is that ketamine had an antidepressant effect that is very robust, consistently effective and also very rapid, which is quite important,” Dr. Mashour said.

Its quick action led to the increased interest in psychiatry to understand the mechanisms of how ketamine works, he said.

“Ketamine is unique on a number of levels — the molecular level, the types of brain areas it affect and its effects on metabolism. It has a lot of interesting properties,” Dr. Mashour said. “I will talk about some of our recent work in the past few years both in humans and in animal models, highlighting where ketamine is different and where it might be the same compared with more conventional general anesthetics.”

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