World Renowned Neuroscientists to Lead Brain Research Efforts in Knoxville

KNOXVILLE, Tenn., Sept. 24, 2014 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- Two of the world's most renowned neuroscientists will lead a collaborative team of researchers in the Knoxville region to advance research studies of the brain. Their laboratories are based at The University of Tennessee Medical Center and the neuroscientists hold professorial positions in the Department of Anesthesiology at the UT Graduate School of Medicine, the Department of Psychology at The University of Tennessee, as well as joint appointments at Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

Dr. Helen A. Baghdoyan and Dr. Ralph Lydic—a married couple and research team—were recruited to Knoxville from the University of Michigan where they were members of the Department of Anesthesiology. They are credited with building nationally recognized research laboratories in Michigan and in the Department of Anesthesiology at the Pennsylvania State University College of Medicine. Their charge is to build a nationally recognized neuroscience research program in the Department of Anesthesiology through further enhancing interaction, collaboration and exchange between UT's main campus, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, UT Medical Center and the Cole Neuroscience Center at UT Medical Center.

Lydic and Baghdoyan note that while anesthesiology is an incredibly safe practice that helps eliminate pain for the nearly 20 million patients in the United States who undergo surgery every year, the way the drugs eliminate waking consciousness in the brain is still unknown. The work of Lydic, Baghdoyan and the team of researchers in Knoxville will focus on understanding how the brain regulates various states of consciousness and the role anesthesia plays in those states.

"We want to understand how consciousness works," said Dr. Robert Craft, professor and vice chair of the Department of Anesthesiology at UT Medical Center and the UT Graduate School of Medicine. "Anesthesia reversibly interrupts consciousness and thus offers an opportunity to study both states in the same individual. The aim is to find a common change in brain chemicals or electrical activity across the spectrum of anesthesia agents, and we believe Drs. Lydic and Baghdoyan can help us tremendously in that effort."

Craft hopes that by discovering the basic requirement of consciousness, a fuller understanding can be reached of disorders of consciousness, such as autism and schizophrenia. The potential of neuroscience research is broad based.

"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 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 nausea and vomiting after surgery, itching, 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 bizarre mental activity of dreaming. Discoveries by Lydic and Baghdoyan have led anesthesia researchers around the world to use states of sleep as a tool for efforts to understand states of anesthesia.

"Sleep influences so many functions and illnesses," said Baghdoyan. "It impacts our exercise, nutrition, cardiovascular health, immune functions, emotional state, 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 improve the concept of sleep health as an essential component of medicine."

In addition to their research and training, Lydic and Baghdoyan will work with a large network of scientists throughout the region who make up the Neuroscience Network of East Tennessee, also known as NeuroNET. Created in 2012 to foster interactions and advance findings among individual neuroscientists engaged in various aspects of neuroscience research, the NeuroNET research unit includes more than 60 research groups throughout the region.

"Neuroscience is one of the fastest growing areas of scientific investigation and of increasing interest to students," said neuroscientist Theresa Lee, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and a professor of psychology. "The strategic melding of researchers and assets from the various campuses in and around Knoxville creates a unique research and educational environment poised to make significant scientific discoveries."

Dr. Lydic serves as the Robert H. Cole Professor of Neuroscience and Dr. Baghdoyan serves as a Beaman Professor. With the start of the Fall 2014 term, they also began teaching Behavioral Neurosciences in UT's Department of Psychology.

A photo accompanying this release is available at:

CONTACT: Jim Ragonese Public Relations Operations The University of Tennessee Medical Center (865) 305-6845 jragones@utmck

Source:The University of Tennessee Medical Center