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Sleeping and waking up: Anesthesia and the brain

Woodruff Health Sciences Center | Sept. 21, 2016

In a new video, Paul García talks about the benefit of having immigrant parents, how the brain is one of the final frontiers of science, and how a drug developed for hypersomnia might improve the reversal of anesthesia.

"The brain is in some ways one of the final frontiers of science," says Paul García, MD, PhD, Laboratory Director and Principal Investigator of the Neuroanesthesia Laboratory at Emory University School of Medicine.

As both a practicing Emory neuroanesthesiologist and a scientist, García has been focused on the pharmacology involved with sedation, sleep, coma, and anesthesia.  "I do about one to two days a week, providing anesthesia care to patients that are undergoing neurosurgery or that have neurologic disease," he says. "The research I do also involves neuroscience and the brain, specifically the processing of electrical and chemical signals of the brain, and the way that our anesthetic drugs interact with the brain."

One of the specific areas García has worked on in recent years is hypersomnia, a disorder in which patients experience an overwhelming need to sleep and may sleep 15, 30, or even 50 hours at a stretch. A few years ago, researchers at the Emory Sleep Center approached García requesting some information about Flumazenil, a drug that seems to antagonize the main inhibitory chemical of the brain, called GABA. Sleep center researchers tested Flumazenil on a small group of patients suffering from severe hypersomnia and saw that it helped. This led to a whole new line of research. "I'm very interested in using drugs like this to reverse anesthesia, because most of our anesthetic drugs work through this same receptor," says García.

García credits his career in medicine and research to his father, a Cuban immigrant who came to the United States in the early 1960s. "My dad always encouraged me to take on science projects. And so I did a lot of science projects when I was a kid," García recalls. He says he learned from his father's immigrant family not to take things for granted, always working hard and appreciating what he has. His wife, who came from India as a child and also has immigrant parents, shares a similar sentiment. 

García received his undergraduate degree (B.S., Computational Neuroscience) at the University of Florida and then earned a PhD in Bioengineering at Georgia Tech, a MD at Emory University then, also at Emory, an Anesthesiology residency followed by a postdoctoral fellowship. Although he's still early in his career, he hopes his work will have a lasting impact. "I would be really honored if people are still talking about my work in twenty years or twenty-five or thirty years. That would be fantastic. I hope to be able to achieve. I hope to be able to achieve that level of influence."