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September 25, 2018

The Discovery and Development of Propofol Anesthesia: The 2018 Lasker-DeBakey Clinical Medical Research Award

Author Affiliations
  • 1Knutsford, Cheshire, United Kingdom
JAMA. 2018;320(12):1235-1236. doi:10.1001/jama.2018.12756

The 2018 Lasker-DeBakey Clinical Medical Research Award has been presented to John B. (Iain) Glen for the discovery and development of propofol, a chemical whose rapid action and freedom from residual side effects have made it the most widely used agent for induction of anesthesia in patients throughout the world.

The specialty of anesthesiology commonly traces its origin to a demonstration by William Morton of the inhalation of ether by a patient undergoing surgery in Boston in 1846. This followed the earlier observation of the analgesic property of nitrous oxide by Davy in 1840 and the use of this agent for painless dentistry by Wells in 1844. Ether was the more potent agent and thereafter painless surgery soon became the norm in many countries. To this day, modern inhalational anesthetic agents are still widely used to maintain unconsciousness, but they are now generally preceded by the administration of an intravenous anesthetic to achieve unconsciousness more rapidly than can be achieved with an inhalational agent administered through a face mask. Since its introduction in 1934 by Lundy, thiopentone, because of its ability to provide rapid loss of consciousness without accompanying excitatory adverse effects, had become the intravenous induction agent of choice.