Children and Anesthesia, Japan and Top Health News

Yes, I was involved in it. The New York Times article by Pam Belluck on whether anesthesia, when used in young children, can lead to cognitive problems or learning disabilities, caused some pediatric operating rooms to almost come to a halt.

Posted on | Mike Roizen, MD | Comments ()

Yes, I was involved in it. The New York Times article by Pam Belluck on whether anesthesia, when used in young children, can lead to cognitive problems or learning disabilities, caused some pediatric operating rooms to almost come to a halt.

Parents appropriately asked more questions. At Arkansas Children’s Hospital, a surgeon texted the Anesthesia Chair: “CALL IMMEDIATELY.” His first words: “Before this becomes a vaccine thing, let’s get ahead of it.”

That’s why the FDA called the meeting, and why they and IARS (International Anesthesia Research Society) relatively unprecedentedly mothered a public–private 501C3: SmartTots ( Why was I there and why is Dr. Oz involved? I was asked to chair this foundation. Here is why its work is important:

All anesthetics tested cause (after long or repeated exposure) in vulnerable periods ( -0.5 to +3  in humans) brain cell death in multiple animal species. And there’s a correlation between repeat anesthesia in children under 4, and decrements in learning, or behavior problems later in life. Since brains are remodeled throughout life, this may concern us old fogies.  

But data also hint of safe doses and anesthesia techniques for kids. How can the FDA and medical community determine such safe drugs/techniques? Obviously: research.  But who will fund such research? Imagine pharma’s response: “Look for a problem with our drug when none exists?” Or the NIH’s response: “Not basic disease mechanisms.” Enter the real reason for the FDA meeting – to point to the most focused, most efficient way to find doses and drugs safe for your kids’ brains (maybe for yours, too). 

SmartTots was formed to garner donations (which are tax deductable) to fund research necessary to make procedures safer for young children.

The FDA recommended 3 study sets to answer: “How will you make sure my baby doesn’t suffer brain dysfunction because she needs this surgery?” Until we have a better answer, the FDA committee recommends children requiring surgery proceed as directed by their physician. Young children usually only undergo surgery if the procedure is vital to their wellbeing. Postponing a necessary procedure may lead to significant health problems. 

I am late with this weekly blog because I was glued to the TV watching the events unfold in Japan. I can’t imagine the stress and anguish going on there. The scope of the disaster is just shattering. I encourage my readers to go to the American Red Cross and donate directly, or donate to the charity of your choice.

A few details from Japan that I didn’t realize – how important their semiconductor manufacturing is to all of us. Sony alone makes 10% of the world’s laptop batteries. Japan is responsible for 30% of global flash memory, 20% of semi-conductors, and 40% of electronic components. I won’t bore you with the details, but for those interested, search for “Japan supply issues” and further on “semiconductors.” It is clear that, at least for a while, prices of electronics and tools are going to rise as one company after another is shutting its production lines down in Japan. Auto manufacturing plants in the US will have to close soon, as critical parts from Japan are not going to be forthcoming. Flat screen TVs? The new tablet computer I keep trying to find? All sorts of companies are going to get their costs squeezed even further. If you want one of these, buy it soon.

As to the medical stories of the week, I tweeted (@youngdrmike) these as the most important (and we discussed on YOU: The Owner’s Manual radio show which you can listen to at on Saturdays at 5-7 p.m. EST):

Story #1: Scientists “seed” cells, make new organs. From your own stem cells. The first reconstructed urethra (the tube that carries urine from your bladder to the outside), grown from a person’s own stem cells. This is a prelude to building other tubular structures, like blood vessels. Maybe this is the future. Scientists at Wake Forest have successfully engineered more than 30 tissues and organs, including miniature livers, heart valves, even organs such as human skin and kidneys, in the lab. They have successfully reconstructed urethras in 5 young patients with their own cells. The challenge with traditional urethra replacement is creating a viable tube that won't collapse.

The engineered grafts appeared normal about 3 months after they were implanted. Their urethras continued to function after several years' follow-up. The lead scientist said that in addition to patients with urethra dysfunction, patients with other complex small vessel problems – such as blood vessels that collapse after heart bypass surgery – could one day benefit from this technology.

Story #2: Smoking pot doubles risk of psychoses. Take home: if you have a family history of mental illness, don’t use pot.

Story #3: Radiation worry – should you? Probably not, but more of that in next week’s blog.

Story #4: Researchers try to understand naked mole rats' resistance to cancer. Their cancer resistance and extreme longevity has to do with their super contact-resistant cells. Hopefully, once somebody harnesses this power, we won’t end up looking like them ...


My New Year’s resolution for 2011 is still largely intact thanks to – smaller portions (save one week), and at least an extra 11 minutes of cardio every day. I’m enjoying it.  I lost 4 of the 5 pounds I gained on vacation from too big portions. I’ve tracked my choices on And when you have wonderful choices, chose the one best for your health – you’ll live younger and happier.

I better go salads-only again this week.

Blog written by Mike Roizen, MD
Dr. Roizen is a past chair of a Food and Drug Administration advisory committee and a former editor for 6 medical journals with...