Professor Yan Li and her team hope to make more accurate measures of depth of anaesthesia (USQ Photography);

How deep is your sleep?

Reading brain activity for better anaesthesia

More than 40 million people have major surgery in China each year. For every one of them the nature of consciousness is a very practical concern. Too low a dose of anaesthetic could see you wake up during the operation. Too high a dose could have long term health consequences.

Currently, the best monitoring devices can only monitor a suite of secondary indicators of consciousness. A Guangdong company has partnered with the University of Southern Queensland (USQ) with the aim of making anaesthesia easier and safer. They’re creating an intelligent device to directly measure the depth of unconsciousness and adjust the anaesthetic dose in real time.

Such a device would:

  • minimise side effects of anaesthetics
  • allow more accurate dosing of general anaesthetic pharmaceuticals
  • reduce the incidence of intraoperative awareness (‘waking up’ during a medical procedure)
  • improve patient comfort reduce the overall cost of care.

The partnership could also lead to innovative technologies to diagnose and treat sleep disorders.

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Shenzhen Delica Medical Equipment is a global leader in the supply of machines to measure brain activity and cerebral blood flow, and other neurological devices.

They’ve invested $500,000 in the work of Professor Yan Li from USQ. She is a leader in brain modelling and using electroencephalography signals for decoding brain activities.

Their partnership has already helped Delica improve the precision of a device that measures blood flow through the brain.

While general anaesthesia is one of the safest routine procedures in medicine today, we still don’t completely understand how it creates ‘unconsciousness’.

The thalamus plays a role in sleep regulation, consciousness and alertness, and coordinates parts of the cortex as we change between sleep states.

Professor Li’s team has developed a model to interpret the mass of neuron activity in the thalamus and cortex.

“Our latest research, including our model, will help Delicia develop new devices for brain activity monitoring and non-invasive cerebral blood measurement, and even the diagnosis of neurological diseases.

“We can help them produce affordable medical instruments that can be used in hospitals around the world, to improve the quality of people’s lives,” Professor Li says.

In 2016 the researchers received a grant as part of the Australian Government’s Global Connections Fund, leading to the investment by Delicia in 2017.


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Header image: Professor Yan Li and her team hope to make more accurate measures of depth of anaesthesia (Credit: USQ Photography).