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Beverley Orser

Professor and Chair, Department of Anesthesia
Professor of Physiology, Faculty of Medicine,
University of Toronto
Co-director of Research, Department of Anesthesia,
Sunnybrook Health Science Centre
Fellow of the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences

Years Active in the IMS: 1988 -1995 (MSc-PhD Student); 1995 - Present (Faculty)

Why the IMS? The IMS allowed me to pursue my dream of becoming a neuroscientist. Before entering medical school, I had completed only two years of undergraduate studies. After finishing residency training in anesthesia, I wanted to undertake preclinical studies to understand how general anesthetic drugs change brain function. My limited background in basic science precluded my admission to other graduate programs. The IMS was my gateway to a career as a clinician-scientist and the exciting world of neuroscience.

What are we studying? The discovery of general anesthesia was one of the greatest advances in the history of modern medicine. However, the molecular mechanisms of anesthesia have eluded scientists for centuries. This lack of understanding has thwarted our ability to develop new anesthetic drugs and treat postanesthesia-related disorders such as delirium. To address these and other major knowledge gaps and to improve patient care, my goal has been to understand how general anesthetic drugs change brain function.

Over the years, my research team has discovered new drug targets, identified the unique properties of receptors, developed new compounds, and obtained patents for therapies that are now being commercialized. More recently, we established the Perioperative Brain Health Centre, the first such centre in the world. The goal of this multidisciplinary endeavour is to discover new treatments for postoperative cognitive deficits by bridging between preclinical and clinical studies. We aim to establish Canada as a global leader in perioperative brain health and to improve the lives of patients and their families.

Who were my mentors and students? The supervisors of my MSc and PhD graduate studies at the IMS, Dr. Hugh O’Brodovich and Dr. John MacDonald, were passionate about translational biomedical research. They asked fundamental questions and set high standards. In turn, one of my greatest professional joys since joining the IMS faculty has been supervising graduate students and fellows. Many of my former trainees now run their own research programs. For example, Loren Martin PhD (IMS, 2009) is a Canada Research Chair in Translational Pain Research at the University of Toronto.

Is the future bright for the IMS? Absolutely! The IMS plays a vital role in helping clinician scientists to fulfill their duty to solve unresolved medical problems using the best available science. Our patients and their families deserve nothing less.