BEACON TRANSCRIPT – A new study suggests that a low-intensity stimulation of the brain may help people regain consciousness after having suffered a brain injury. The researchers tested their theory by helping bring back to minimal consciousness a man that spent the past fifteen years in a vegetative state. They managed to do so thanks to a surgical implant.
The patient to receive it was involved in a car collision when he was twenty years old. The accident caused traumatic brain injuries that led to his entering a vegetative state. This is a persistent state of unconsciousness that this particular patient has not recovered from even fifteen years later.
Surgical Implant Proves and Opens the Path to a New Recovery Method?
People living in a vegetative state usually don’t respond to outside stimuli but are also not brain dead. Specialists consider this state to become permanent if it persists over a period of 12 months or longer, with the patient showing no signs of improvement.
However, a new study claims that this might not be so. Research was led by Angela Sirigu and her colleagues from the Institute for Cognitive Sciences–Marc Jeannerod, Lyon, France. Together with her team, the cognitive neuroscientist tried VNS on the patient.
VNS or the vagus nerve stimulation involves the use of a small surgical implant that releases minuscule electric shocks. These targeted the vagus nerve, which is considered to be a ‘critical brain signal superhighway’ as it can send information from the brain stem to many parts of the body.
According to the study paper, published in the journal Current Biology, the patient presented signs of improvement following the implantation of this device. Namely, he started giving signs of minimal consciousness.
The team reports that the car crash victim presented significant improvements in his brain activity, attention, and movements. He can now seemingly turn his head when asked to and follow an object with his eyes.
While still far from regaining full consciousness, the man reportedly regained a minimal awareness of his surroundings. The results were obtained following a month of stimulation from the surgical implant.
The study team is planning on conducting a larger scale trial. One that will involve more patients that are in a vegetative or minimally conscious state who will be receiving vagus nerve stimulators.
Still, some researchers remain somewhat skeptical as to the study results.
“I’m not saying their claim is untrue. I’m just saying it’s hard to interpret based on the results as presented,” states Andrew Cole, of the Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts.
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