Vagus nerve stimulation showed improvement in awareness of man in vegetative state

PET scans show increased brain activity in comatose patients after

PET scans show increased brain activity in comatose patients after

The 35-year-old man, who was injured in a vehicle accident, received a pioneering treatment based on nerve stimulation.

While still far from regaining full consciousness, the man reportedly regained a minimal awareness of his surroundings. "It is possible to improve a patient's presence in the world", she added, as quoted by the Daily Mail. "For example, he could follow an object with his eyes and turn his head upon request", the team reports in a press statement. He even shed a tear when his favorite music was played.

The patient in question was a 35-year-old man who suffered a traumatic brain injury in a auto accident and had been in a vegetative state ever since, for 15 years. During a 20-minute procedure, they implanted an electrical implant to stimulate the vagus nerve in the patient's neck.

The team reports that the auto crash victim presented significant improvements in his brain activity, attention, and movements.

It wasn't just a random guess that this device might help a patient in a vegetative state - doctors worked from a hypothesis based on previous research that showed improvements in patients with MCS when they got stimulation to the thalamus, a brain centre involved in coordinating sensory signals.

Experts who are not part of the research warn that the technique has only been applied to one patient only and the results can not extrapolate to all vegetative patients.

Unlike a coma, in which a person is asleep and unresponsive, a patient in a vegetative state is awake, but shows no signs of awareness or cognitive function, even though they can have basic reflexes like blinking when startled.

Changes in brain activity may show that he had shifted from being in a vegetative state to being a state of minimal consciousness.

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Investigative committee official Smyatskaya added that the initial criminal investigation is into the death of one woman. She has not been identified but is said to have been 35 and moved to Krasnodar from Omutinsk town in Kirov region.

Ms Sirigu said: "Brain plasticity and brain fix are still possible even when hope seems to have vanished".

The findings, reported in Current Biology, could challenge the view that a vegetative state which lasts for more than 12 months is irreversible.

Sirigu and her team have plans to apply the same procedure to patients with less severe brain injuries with hopes of observing more significant improvements.

"This is a very small performance difference that is of questionable significance to the patient". In such cases, the technique could be more successful.

Gains were also spotted in the brain's functional connectivity, metabolic activity in both cortical and subcortical regions of the brain.

The 35-year-old was left seriously injured after a vehicle accident but after having a nerve stimulator put in his chest, has started to respond to simple orders previously impossible for him.

Other experts believe that it is too soon to celebrate the results.

"The patient described in that paper had more dramatic behavioural improvements - for instance was able to start eating on his own - but this result has not been translated to a commonly used therapy to date", said Vladimir Litvak, senior lecturer at the University College London Institute of Neurology.

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