Consciousness sparked in man after 15 years in vegetative state
After 15 years in a vegetative statewith no signs of consciousness a man is now showing minimal signs of"waking" following the implantation of an experimental nervestimulation device into his chest.
Angela Sirigu and colleagues at theFrench National Centre for Scientific Research in Bron set out todevelop a novel way of regaining lost consciousness. The researchexamined whether stimulating the vagus nerve could have any effect onreturning a vegetative patient back to a state of consciousness.
The vagus nerve has been the source ofa great deal of compelling research in recent years. Running from thebrain to the abdomen, the nerve is responsible for a huge array ofdifferent bodily tasks, and it comes into contact with a number ofdifferent organs, including the heart, lungs and stomach.
Stimulating the vagus nerve with anelectrical current has been shown to reduce epileptic seizures inpatients not responsive to drug treatment. This treatment has alsoproven effective in reducing symptoms of depression. More recently itwas discovered that vagus nerve stimulation could potentially be an effectiveanti-inflammatory treatment.
To examine whether vagus nervestimulation could restore consciousness in a vegetative patient, theresearchers selected a candidate who had been unresponsive for 15years after a major car accident. After one month of electricalstimulation to the vagus nerve, the man displayed signs ofawareness, such as turning his head when asked and following an objectwith his eyes.
Examining the patient through EEG andPET scans revealed increased brain activity across several areas ofthe brain. The man was now closer to a state scientists would classify as minimalconsciousness after years in a vegetative state.
Needless to say this isliterally just one case study and not an indication the key to waking anyone up from an unconscious state has been found. Everycase of brain injury is different and not all would be responsive tothis kind of treatment, but the study offers a fascinating new insightinto what goes on in our body to produce consciousness.
The research was published in thejournal Current Biology.
Source: Cell Press via ScienceDaily