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    Innovative System Automates Anesthesia Administration

    By Jennifer Huddleston, staff writer      

    Researchers at McGill University and the McGill University Health Centre (MUHC) in Montreal, Canada, have created a system that recently performed the world’s first completely automated anesthesia administration.

    The system, nicknamed “McSleepy,” automatically administers general anesthesia drugs and monitors their effects without any manual intervention. [1] McSleepy, first used on a patient undergoing a three-and-a-half-hour surgery to remove a kidney tumor, has been used during procedures on a total of seven patients. [2]

    McSleepy automatically measures the depth of the patient’s hypnosis, pain and muscle relaxation, displays the results on a monitor and then administers the appropriate drugs via pumps that are controlled by the laptop on which the system is installed. [3] The system also provides feedback on the patient’s brainwave patterns, muscle contractions, heart rate and blood pressure. [4]

    Dr. Thomas M. Hemmerling, lead developer of the system and head of the Intelligent Technology in Anesthesia Group (ITAG), said the ITAG team of anesthesiologists, engineers and biomedical scientists put a lot of emphasis on designing an interface that is easy to read but provides a detailed description of what is happening during the procedure. [5]

    While researchers had been working on the development of a partially automated drug administration system like McSleepy for the past 15 to 20 years, the pain-monitoring software developed by the ITAG team allowed for complete automation. [6]

    “We have preliminary results which indicate it is actually better in terms of stability of anesthesia than us at this point,” Hemmerling said, referring to anesthesiologists. [7]

    While McSleepy can calculate the appropriate drug doses faster and more precisely than a human, Hemmerling likens it to an automatic transmission in a car and says that anesthesiologists won’t turn the patient over entirely to the automated machine. [8] , [9]

     “Automatic systems in life only help us to perform our task better,” Hemmerling said. “They will not replace us.” [10]

     If an unexpected problem or event should occur during the procedure, anesthesiologists can manually override the system. [11]

     The system can communicate with personal digital assistants (PDAs), allowing anesthesiologists to monitor a patient from outside the OR and to focus on other aspects of patient care, such as checking on the recovery of post-surgical patients. [12]

     “Bleeding, temperature control, all these kind of things should be much more important to us than just applying the drugs to make somebody sleepy, because that’s how we help the surgeons to do their job,” Hemmerling said. “So if you have an automatic system covering the mere administration of these drugs, we can really focus on what else we’re doing.” [13]

    President of the Canadian Anesthesiologists’ Society Dr. Shane Sheppard said the automated system would greatly benefit anesthesiologists, particularly during extensive procedures. [14]

    “The value of the anesthesiologist is largely based around their judgment and their ability to discern what is the best plan for the patient, how to change plans if things change in real time,” Sheppard said. [15] McSleepy’s automation enables anesthesiologists to focus on the aspects of the surgery that require their expertise rather than attend to the routine administration of drugs. 

    Hemmerling said it will probably take about two years to perfect the system. [16] The researchers plan to test McSleepy on 1,000 to 2,000 patients before seeking approval from the FDA and Health Canada, but Hemmerling said he hopes a commercial system will be available in the next five years. [17] , [18]


    [1]  Researchers Develop Completely Automated Anesthesia System: A World First. Medical News Today. May 2, 2008.

    [2] Ubelacker, Sheryl. Canadian Researchers Develop Automated Anesthesia System Dubbed McSleepy. The Canadian Press. May 2, 2008.

    [3]  Researchers Develop Completely Automated Anesthesia System: A World First. Medical News Today. May 2, 2008.

    [4] Ubelacker, Sheryl. Canadian Researchers Develop Automated Anesthesia System Dubbed McSleepy. The Canadian Press. May 2, 2008.

    [5]  Researchers Develop Completely Automated Anesthesia System: A World First. Medical News Today. May 2, 2008.

    [6] Ubelacker, Sheryl. Canadian Researchers Develop Automated Anesthesia System Dubbed McSleepy. The Canadian Press. May 2, 2008.

    [7]  Ibid.

    [8]  Researchers Develop Completely Automated Anesthesia System: A World First. Medical News Today. May 2, 2008.

    [9] Ubelacker, Sheryl. Canadian Researchers Develop Automated Anesthesia System Dubbed McSleepy. The Canadian Press. May 2, 2008.

    [10]  Ibid.

    [11]  Ibid.

    [12]  Ibid.

    [13]  Ibid.

    [14]  Ibid.

    [15]  Ibid.

    [16]  Researchers Develop Completely Automated Anesthesia System: A World First. Medical News Today. May 2, 2008.

    [17]  Ibid.

    [18] Ubelacker, Sheryl. Canadian Researchers Develop Automated Anesthesia System Dubbed McSleepy. The Canadian Press. May 2, 2008.



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