Medicine

Consciousness partially restored in man who spent 15 years in vegetative state

Consciousness partially restored in man who spent 15 years in vegetative state

Bernat points out that every vegetative state case is different, and the vagus nerve stimulation might not work for every patient. Scientists claim that after years of being in a vegetative state, their intervention restored a minimal state of consciousness in this man. The vagus nerve serves many roles in the anatomy: it controls the slowing of the heartbeat and the muscles of the small intestine. When doctors requested he turn his head one side or the other, the patient obeyed.

Doctors treated the 35-year-old, injured in a vehicle accident, with an experimental therapy that involved implanting a nerve stimulator into his chest.

People living in a vegetative state usually don't respond to outside stimuli but are also not brain dead.

A auto crash victim left in a coma for 15 years has shown signs of life after a nerve stimulator was implanted into his chest by neurosurgeons. The brain activity does not represent full consciousness; more like the trance you fall into when you are driving on a particularly straight stretch of highway, but it is a marked improvement from an unresponsive vegetative state. A breakthrough new study, however, suggests that this may no longer be the case. The person in this state is actually possible to recognize the dead as to live independently, he cannot.

Noting that vagus nerve stimulation has always been used as a treatment for both epilepsy and depression, the French team chose to see whether it might also be deployed to help bring a patient out of a vegetative state into a minimally conscious state.

Examining the patient through EEG and PET scans revealed increased brain activity across several areas of the brain.

The idea is that the administration of electrical pulses over a period of six months - starting at 0.25 milliamperes, increasing by 0.25 mA a week - stimulates activity in certain regions of the brain to help the main regain consciousness.

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Researchers used nerve stimulation technique on a 35-year-old man who has been in a vegetative state for the past 15 years, and noticed improvement in the level of consciousness in that person. It is noted that he re-acquired the ability to follow objects with the eyes, I learned to move my neck and stopped to sleep when the nurse or his mother read him the book.

The result "totally makes sense to me", said Dr. Nicholas Schiff, a neuroscientist at Weill Cornell Medicine in New York City who did not participate in the research. They implanted a stimulator to the nerve and applied a current, slowly ramping it up over a month.

"Brain plasticity and brain fix are still possible even when hope seems to have vanished", said researcher Angela Sirigu of Institut des Sciences Cognitives Marc Jeannerod in Lyon, France.

According to the publication, in Current Biology, the tomographies confirmed this improvement. This treatment has also proven effective in reducing symptoms of depression.

In addition to helping patients, the findings will also advance understanding of "this fascinating capacity of our mind to produce conscious experience", Sirigu said.

In the end, Sirigu said that her team was not, in fact, surprised by the encouraging results, based on evidence of the impact of VNS in prior animal research.


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