Scientist gets award for sending people to sleep

October 09, 2003

One of the UK's top scientists will receive a prestigious award for more than 20 years of research into the mechanisms of action of anaesthetic agents.

The American Society of Anesthesiologists (ASA) will make Professor Mervyn Maze, from Imperial College London, the recipient of its Excellence in Research award for 2003 at the Society's Annual Meeting on 13 October in San Francisco.

In addition to his clinical work performed as a Consultant Anaesthetist at the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital, Professor Maze's body of research over the last 20 years has contributed to a better understanding of the scientific basis for the mechanisms whereby anaesthetics produce their sleep-inducing effects.

Professor Maze began his career in medicine after graduation from the University of Cape Town and served two years as a house officer in respiratory medicine and gastroenterology at Groote Schuur Hospital. Following this, he trained in internal medicine at the Royal Free Hospital in London, and then moved to Stanford University, California, to train in basic science.

At Stanford, he worked as a postdoctoral research fellow studying functional membrane proteins in the cells lining the small intestine. He has since applied these discoveries to investigations of related proteins which were possible targets for anaesthetic drugs. His basic research has directly resulted in clinical advances in patients ranging from those with chronic pain to those requiring artificial ventilation in the intensive care setting.

In 1999, Professor Maze became the Sir Ivan Magill Professor of Anaesthetics at Imperial College London, where he continues his research into the mechanisms of anaesthetic action. Together with Professor Nick Franks, a biophysicist from Imperial College London, he discovered that while different anaesthetics affect different receptors in the brain, they converge on the same neuronal pathways producing a common behavioural endpoint. The clinical importance of their more recent work is exemplified by the finding that xenon, an inert anaesthetic gas, also acts to prevent damaged nerve cells from dying after events such as a stroke. If clinical trials progress as hoped, it is expected that patients with acute nerve injury may benefit from their basic research into anaesthetic mechanisms.

Professor Maze comments: "The ASA is the most highly respected body in our clinical discipline in the world and I am greatly honoured to receive their premier research award. I accept this award on behalf of all the exceptional mentors, collaborators and students with whom I have had the pleasure to work. It is particularly pleasing to know that our research has benefited so many patients and inspires me to continue the quest of bringing basic discoveries into the clinical arena."

Professor Sir Leszek Borysiewicz, Principal of the Faculty of Medicine at Imperial College London adds: "Mervyn is truly deserving of this award. As well as being a doctor, he has also made huge progress in understanding how anaesthetics work through his continued research. This is an excellent example of how to combine basic medical and scientific research with patient care, providing real benefits for society as a whole."

Heather Lawrence, Chief Executive of Chelsea and Westminster Hospital adds: "We are delighted that Professor Maze has been recognised for his excellent work in this important research area for the benefit of patients."

Professor Maze is currently Deputy Head of the Division of Surgery, Anaesthetics and Intensive Care at Imperial College London, and is also Director of Research and Development and Campus Dean at Chelsea and Westminster Hospital. He is a fellow of the Royal College of Physicians, the Royal College of Anaesthetists, and the Academy of Medical Sciences. He also serves as an editor of the journal Anesthesiology.

He was born in 1947, is married to Dr Janet Wyner-Maze and has two children, and three grandchildren. His hobbies include tennis, cycling and the theatre.
Professor Maze's work was supported by an MRC programme grant, and also through an award from the Wellcome Trust.

Notes to editors:
1. The American Society of Anesthesiologists is an educational, research and scientific association of physicians organized to raise and maintain the standards of the medical practice of anesthesiology and improve the care of the patient. Since its founding in 1905, the Society's achievements have made it an important voice in American Medicine and the foremost advocate for all patients who require anesthesia or relief from pain.

2. Consistently rated in the top three UK university institutions, Imperial College London is a world leading science-based university whose reputation for excellence in teaching and research attracts students (10,000) and staff (5,000) of the highest international quality. Innovative research at the College explores the interface between science, medicine, engineering and management and delivers practical solutions that enhance the quality of life and the environment - underpinned by a dynamic enterprise culture. Website:

Imperial College London

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