When a brain-damaged person seems unresponsive, the uncertainty is excruciating. Is the person in a vegetative state, awake but not conscious, or are they minimally conscious, still retaining some shreds of awareness? Scientists can now distinguish between people in vegetative and minimally conscious states by measuring brain waves, a Belgian research team announced at the Society for Neuroscience conference last week, which could lead to a more clear-cut, objective way to make the diagnosis.
What’s the News: A number of recent studies have suggested that brain scans could be used to diagnose autism. Virginia Hughes investigated these claims in a report for the Simons Foundation Autism Research Initiative. While some researchers feel these tests could soon be ready for the clinic, she found, others feel that relying on the scans for diagnosis is at least premature, and perhaps entirely misguided. Some important points in her report:
How the Would-Be Autism Tests Work:
What’s the News: A non-invasive test that measures brain waves could help doctors better diagnose whether a patient is truly in a vegetative state, according to a preliminary study published today in Science. What’s more, the results suggest that a particular pathway of communication in the brain is disrupted in vegetative patients but not patients with somewhat less severe brain damage—which could not only improve diagnosis, but help researchers better understand these tragic conditions.