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Nicholas Franks

Nicholas Franks

Professor Nicholas Franks FMedSci FRS


Elected: 2011





Nick Franks is a biophysicist whose work has overturned conventional assumptions about how anaesthetics work. Until the 1990s, anaesthetists assumed that such drugs interacted non-specifically with cell membranes. Nick and his colleague Bill Lieb showed instead that they target a small number of specific receptors.

Exploring the detail of these interactions, amongst many other discoveries, Nick has revealed the precise location where the injectable anaesthetic propofol binds to the GABAA receptor. Such advances should lead to more informed use of existing anaesthetics as well as opening pathways to the discovery of better ones.

Nick’s interests extend to the links between anaesthesia, consciousness and sleep, and in 2015 he shared in the discovery that anaesthetics cause sedation by activating an ensemble of neurons that also trigger the deep sleep that follows sleep deprivation. Amongst his many honours are the Ebert Prize of the American Pharmaceutical Association, the Gold Medal of the Royal College of Anaesthetists and the Excellence in Research award from the American Society of Anesthesiologists.

Professional positions

Professor of Biophysics and Anaesthetics, Department of Life Sciences, Imperial College London
Professor of Biophysics and Anaesthetics, Department of Life Sciences, Imperial College London

Interest and expertise

Subject groups

  • Anatomy, physiology and neurosciences
    • Pharmacology (non-clinical), Cellular neuroscience
  • Biochemistry and molecular cell biology
    • Biophysics and structural biology


General anesthesia, Sleep, Consciousness

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