Anesthesia and Consciousness

Throughout his long career, Anesthesiology faculty and University of Arizona Professor Stuart Hameroff MD has studied the mechanism of action of anesthetic gases to unravel the mystery of consciousness. Hameroff’s proposed theoretical mechanism, that anesthetics erase consciousness by dampening quantum vibrations in microtubules inside brain neurons, is one of 3 theories listed in Wikipedia’s page ‘Theories of general anesthetic action’. See [link] And the theory of consciousness based on quantum vibrations in microtubules which Hameroff developed with Oxford physicist Sir Roger Penrose, ‘orchestrated objective reduction’ (‘Orch OR’) is one of 6 major theories of consciousness included in a project sponsored by the Templeton World Charity Foundation (TWCF). The project sets up  adversarial collaboration among the theories, a kind of ‘playoff’ to find the ‘champion’ theory best supported by experimental evidence. Orch OR proponents Penrose and Hameroff, along with selected experimentalists, will face off against ‘Integrated Information Theory’ (‘IIT’) proponents Giulio Tononi (U Wisconsin) and Christof Koch (Allen Institute) in January in Tucson.

As Director of the Center for Consciousness Studies (‘CCS’) at the University, Dr Hameroff also organizes the world’s largest and longest-running interdisciplinary conference – ‘The Science of Consciousness’, asking questions such as: Is your brain a computer generating consciousness? Or is it a quantum orchestra tuned into consciousness present in the universe? See conference announcement and information here. [link to poster attached]. Since 1994, The Science of Consciousness (‘TSC’) conferences have alternated between Tucson in even-numbered years (now held at Loews Ventana Canyon Resort) and elsewhere in odd-numbered years (Switzerland in 2019, Sicily in 2021). The first TSC conference in 1994 was held in Duvall Auditorium in the old hospital, with welcoming remarks by our founding chairman Burnell R Brown MD, PhD. For the 2020 conference, special arrangements can be made for residents, faculty and staff to attend.

Dr Hameroff’s clinical research includes pioneering work on transcranial ultrasound (‘TUS’). Using ultrasound into the brain as a therapy (possibly to resonate microtubules), TUS has been shown to improve mood and cognitive function in humans, reverse effects of Alzheimer’s and brain trauma in animals, and could prove useful in treatment and/or prevention of post-operative cognitive dysfunction (POCD). The first clinical study showing TUS effects on mental states in humans was done by Hameroff and departmental colleagues (including Drs Pat Boyle and Tony Lucas) and published in the journal Brain Stimulation in 2013.

This year Dr Hameroff and CCS received $153,000 from the Penrose Institute via Wend Ventures for clinical studies of transcranial ultrasound (‘TUS’) for treatment of dementia, brain trauma, addiction and mood disorders. He will be collaborating with Drs John JB Allen and Jay Sanguinetti in Psychology, Bellal Joseph in Surgery, Rich Amini in Emergency Medicine, and Todd Vanderah and Tally Largent-Milnes in Pharmacology. Hameroff and CCS have also received conference funding from the Fetzer-Franklin Fund, Eugene Zhong Family Foundation, Chen Foundation and TWCF totaling (with the Penrose/Wend funding) over a quarter million dollars in 2019.

Release Date: 
02/04/2019 - 1:45pm