Anesthesiology, Perioperative and Pain Medicine

Rona Giffard, MD, PhD

An Interest

Dr. Rona Giffard

           Dr. Rona Giffard has devoted her life to research – both her own and encouraging others to get involved. “I try to encourage everybody I come across to do research,” says Dr. Giffard, who has served as the Anesthesia Department’s Vice-Chair for Research for the last eleven years..

            The department could not have found a better person for the job.

            “I’ve always been very strongly interested in science,” she explains.

           Born in New York, Dr. Giffard earned her undergraduate degree in Biochemistry from Berkeley and then worked for two years in a lab in Germany. She subsequently returned to the West Coast to earn an M.D. and Ph.D. from Stanford. “I knew from an early age that I wanted to do a Ph.D. and I only laterally came around to the medical side of things,” she explained.         

            “I thought that it would be helpful to do both, or anyway it would be interesting to do both,” she adds.

            Dr. Giffard’s research career began with the tiny worm C. elegans and then delved into cell biology in the slime mold Dictyostelium. After completing her anesthesia residency, Dr. Giffard became interested in neuroscience and spent her postdoctoral fellowship working with primary brain cell cultures – brain cells growing in dishes that are useful for understanding cellular mechanisms in detail.  

The Gifford Lab

            Today, Dr. Giffard’s five-person lab employs preclinical models to investigate the cellular consequences of stroke – a condition in which blood flow is cut off to some region of the brain. “[We are] trying to understand what’s happening to different types of brain cells in the brain during stroke and during the recovery period after stroke,” says Dr. Giffard.

            Her research is relevant to anesthesia because “patients suffering a stroke either during surgery or in the perioperative period- the first few days after surgery, are certainly very major concerns to an anesthesiologist,” she explains.

            The Giffard Lab hopes to identify new approaches to protect against stroke. “A treatment for patients is of course many, many steps away,” she admits. However, one could imagine a day when patients scheduled to undergo neurosurgery or cardiac surgery – procedures plagued with a high risk of stroke – might be pre-treated with a small molecule drug that would either decrease the risk of having a stroke or reduce the extent of injury caused by a stroke.

             “I do think that anesthesiologists may be some of the first people to be able to help patients with perioperative stroke prevention,” Dr. Giffard asserts.

            While science has always been her first love, Dr. Giffard’s inquisitive mind has led her to acquire a number of interesting hobbies, including travel, visiting museums, and hiking.

            In addition, Dr. Giffard professes an ongoing interest in history and literature. Last fall, Dr. Giffard spent three months at the Stanford Overseas Program in Oxford teaching undergraduates in two courses of her own design: History of Neuroscience, and Medical Ethics in Literature and Film. The latter explores themes important in both medicine and literature.

            “The themes of death and dying and interacting with people who have disabilities or have various kinds of medical conditions are things that crop up frequently in literature,” she explains.

            Despite her obvious appreciation for the personal side of medicine, Dr. Giffard no longer works in the operating room, instead focusing her time on research and administrative duties. When asked if she misses spending time in the neurosurgical OR, she replies, “I do. But there’s still only 24-hours in the day.”

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