A/Prof Bruno van Swinderen (Queensland Brain Institute)


General anaesthetics have been in use for almost 200 years, but there remains a surprising lack of understanding on how these diverse drugs really work. All general anaesthetics essentially rob us of our most precious asset, our consciousness, thereby allowing surgery to proceed without pain or awareness. Yet, most animals are also rendered unresponsive by general anaesthetics, often at exactly the same concentrations that produce unconsciousness in humans. This suggests conserved target mechanisms that have little to do with that precious human asset, and points instead to a way of understanding fundamental processes common to all animal brains. In this talk, I will be presenting some new clues on how general anaesthetics work, and will attempt to reconcile our recent findings with more established theories in the field. I’ll also be discussing our results in the larger context of the evolution of sleep.

Speaker Bio

Brunco van SwinderenA/Prof Bruno van Swinderen received a PhD in evolutionary biology from Washington University in St Louis, Missouri. His postdoctoral work at the Neurosciences Institute in San Diego, California, led him to the scientific study of consciousness. Taking an evolutionary view, he developed novel paradigms to study perception in the smallest animal brains. His discoveries include uncovering neural correlates of sleep and selective attention in flies, as well as fundamental mechanisms of general anaesthesia. In 2008, he moved to Australia to run lab at the Queensland Brain Institute. His lab uses the Drosophila fly model to understand how the brain is able to block or prioritise sensory stimuli, as happens during sleep and attention. He is particularly interested in how sleep and attention might have co-evolved to optimise behaviour, and is keen to promote research in simpler animal models to understand complex brain processes such as consciousness.

About Seminar Series

The School of Pharmacy Seminar Series involves regular formal presentations of high-quality scholarly work with broad appeal.

The wider School community is invited to attend, including academic and professional staff, special guests, visitors, as well as HDR, postgraduate, masters and honours students.

Seminars are held on Fridays from 12pm–1pm in room 5034 in the Pharmacy Australia Centre of Excellence, 20 Cornwall St Woolloongabba (next to TRI and the PA Hospital).

Confirmed 2021 seminars

Date Presenter
12-1pm, Friday 19 March
(PACE R5034 and Zoom)
Professor Paul Clarke, Director Diamantina Institute        
12-1pm, Friday 16 April
(Zoom only)
Associate Professor Francine Marques, Monash University     
12-1pm, Friday 23 April
(Zoom only)
Associate Professor Ben Colagiuri, Sydney University 
12-1pm, Friday 7 May
(Zoom only)
Dr Laurence Cheung, Curtin University
12-1pm, Friday 30 July
(location TBC)
Dr Gary Chan, UQ CYSUR
12-1pm, Friday 13 August
(Zoom only)
Professor Sanjay Garg, University of South Australia
12-1pm, Friday 3 September
(PACE R5034 and Zoom)
Associate Professor Michael Barras, UQ Pharmacy
12-1pm 10 September
(Online via Zoom)

Professor Josephine Forbes, Mater Research


12-1pm, Friday 17 September
(PACE R5034 and Zoom)

Professor Nigel McMillan, Program Director: Infectious Diseases and Immunology, Menzies Health Institute QLD, Griffith University

12-1pm, Friday 24 September
(Location TBC)
Denuja Karunakaran, IMB Fellow, Institute for Molecular Bioscience (IMB), UQ


Pharmacy Australia Centre of Excellence, 20 Cornwall St, Woolloongabba
Room: 5034