Good news coming from the world of medicine. For the first time, A team of doctors managed to ‘awaken’ a patient from his vegetative state of 15 years..
Unlike coma, in which a person is asleep and unresponsive, the patient in a vegetative state is awakened but shows no signs of cognitive awareness or function. The main difference between ‘coma’ and the ‘vegetative state’ is that at some point the person’s eyes will be open and there will be times when they seem to be ‘awake’. They may move parts of their body, but this movement is not voluntary.
Dr. Angela Sirigu, who led the study from the Cognitive Neuroscience Center in France conducted the study on a 35-year-old man who suffered a traumatic brain injury and was in a vegetative phase after a car accident.
The doctor performed nerve stimulation to restore the patient’s consciousness.
The team used medical implants that stimulate the vagus nerve; one of the most important nerves that connect the head to other body parts.
The implant used is shaped like a flat and round battery, called the Vagus Nerve Stimulator (VNS) or sometimes called a “pacemaker”.
The physician worked with a hypothesis from a previous study stating that stimulation of the thalamus would improve the brain of patients in the vegetative phase.
In the experiment, doctors observed the patient’s behavior to see the response to the stimulus. The team also recorded the results of electroencephalogram (EEG) and PET scanning before implanting the stimulator.
Then, gradually, the doctor increases the intensity of the stimulus.
Surprisingly, the patient who became the object of study showed improvement in just a month. There is significant movement and attention after the use of such nerve stimulation devices. Brain scans also showed better functioning.
The man’s mother reported that he would stay awake for longer after the stimulation started. He seemed to be paying attention when his therapist read him a book, because his “eyes were open and oriented”, says Sirigu.
In the future, Sirigu said she’s planning a larger study involving several medical centers.