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Honey bees point way to faster recovery for anesthetic surgery patients

(Xinhua)

16:06, April 18, 2012

WELLINGTON, April 17 (Xinhua) -- A study in New Zealand has pointed the way to faster recovery for surgery patients who wake up from general anesthetic feeling as if they have jet-lag, or the sensation of being in a different time zone.

Researchers at the University of Auckland said Tuesday they had discovered that general anesthetic alters the functioning of genes that control the body's biological clock.

"Our work shows that general anesthesia effectively shifts you to a different time zone, producing chemically-induced jet-lag," said lead researcher Dr. Guy Warman from the university's Department of Anesthesiology and School of Biological Sciences.

"It provides a scientific explanation for why people wake up from surgery feeling as though very little time has passed," Warman said in a statement.

The effect could last for at least three days, even in the presence of strong light cues telling the brain the correct time of day.

The scientists made the discovery by studying the effects of general anesthesia on honey bees.

"Honey bees have an amazingly accurate sense of time, which allows them to forage and find flowers in the right place at the right time of day," said Warman.

The bees were trained to travel to a specific food source before being given a commonly-used anesthetic.

The scientists tracked the direction the bees flew after waking from the anesthetic and how long their foraging behavior was delayed.

The results showed that the bees' sense of time was significantly slowed during anesthesia.

"By looking at their behavior we can get a clear idea of what time of day they think it is, and quantify the effects of anesthesia. An added advantage is that their biological clocks work in a very similar way to mammals," said Warman.

The disruption of the biological clock by anesthesia was well known, along with the resulting disruption in sleep patterns and mood as well as wound healing and immune function, he said.

"By understanding why this happens we can work out how to treat it and potentially improve post-operative recovery," said Warman.

The researchers were putting their findings to use in clinical studies in New Zealand, examining the extent of post-operative jet- lag in patients and how it could be treated.

The study has been published in the latest issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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