Scientists Partly Restore Consciousness in Patient Who Spent 15 Years in a Vegetative State

By Carl Engelking | September 25, 2017 12:37 pm

This figure shows information sharing across all electrodes before (left) and after vagus nerve stimulation. The yellow and orange colors on the right indicate an increase of connectivity among posterior parietal regions. (Credit: Corazzol et al.)

It’s generally believed that patients who are in a vegetative state more than a year after experiencing severe brain trauma won’t regain consciousness ever again. Their essential bodily functions will continue, but it’s extremely unlikely they’ll ever be aware of their surroundings.

But, as it’s often said: never say never.

Using an implant to stimulate the vagus nerve, doctors restored signs of consciousness in a 35-year-old Frenchman who had been in a vegetative state for the past 15 years. As scientists reported in a study published Monday in Current Biology, the patient could follow an object with his eyes and turn his head on command after one month of brain stimulation therapy.

The vagus nerve is the longest and most complex of the 12 cranial nerves, stretching from the brain to the abdomen. Vagus nerve fibers branch into every major organ in the body; as such, it plays a key role in crucial bodily functions like heart rate, respiration and the gut-brain connection—to name a few. In the brain, the vagus nerve connects to numerous regions of the brain that together comprise the “hot zone” for consciousness.

Given its important role in the body, scientists have experimented with vagus nerve stimulation as a means to treat depression, epilepsy, migraines and Alzheimer’s disease.

In this case, scientists led by Angela Sirigu of the National Center for Scientific Research in France implanted a stimulation device in the chest of their patient and monitored his brain activity over a six-month period. After a month, they noted consistent improvements in “general arousal, sustained attention, body motility and visual pursuit.” Recordings of brain activity also showed the man produced brainwaves called a theta signal, which is a sign of limited consciousness that’s not present in vegetative state patients.

Those stronger theta signals were also occurring in the parietal lobe of the brain, which is the region that integrates sensory information to provide a basis for perception. Scientists claim that after years of being in a vegetative state, their intervention restored a minimal state of consciousness in this man.

No, it wasn’t a full recovery, but the researchers say their work represents a step in the right direction, and shows that there’s hope for limited recovery in even the most severe brain trauma cases.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Mind & Brain, top posts
  • Mongofilm

    While this is a great advancement, what is the end goal? Clearly we wouldn’t put thousands of people on life-support for tens of years, just to restore minimal consciousness… so is this story just to boost investments to the doctors / hospital that achieved this? I appreciate that we could extrapolate this to cases where this is needed sooner, say after a few weeks / months… but I would love it if the folks writing the articles would probe deeper into the why and who of the scenarios.

    • DocOct

      It’s a science brief to report on a breakthrough study in the field of vagus nerve stimulation. There’s a hyperlink to the study itself within the article if you want to know more. You can also google Vagus Nerve Stimulation and find that it is a huge area of study right now, and that there’s tons of information on the why and who.

      • John Gault

        Which is exactly what he said, just ignoring the lack of results or promise of them…… selling false hope to the desperate in reality.

        • DocOct

          Wow, way to be a downer, man. Do you have stock investments in life support machines or something? LOL

          • John Gault

            So, you are supporting whatever, to feel better and offended it’s not working? My 12 year old isn’t that self centered.

          • DocOct

            “This is John Gault Drunk Commenting”

          • eirikr1

            well at least your insults are above “12 year old level” and show wit, if not intelligence. But the charge still stands

          • MMA_Miami Rocks

            You’re all heart Gault.
            with a little psychopathy thrown in.

          • John Gault

            Found your problem, can’t make a case. You insult for your respected solution….you’re nothing to respect or support.

            Which is why you plead for it, and blame your victims.

          • MMA_Miami Rocks

            Sorry miss but it is u. Everyone else sees…

        • JWrenn

          They said it was a step in the right direction. if you can restore partial brain activity, it may open the door to restoring full brain activity. Should they not report on this? Only report on the end result and not all the steps that are required to make a life saving technique? Why? Sorry but this whole idea is silly to me. They did something they have never managed to do before. That is news worthy on a science site.

        • Small_Businessman

          Science goes in steps. It doesn’t go from nothing to 100% at one time. While the patient didn’t have a full recovery, this is a major step in understanding a persistent vegetative state and shows promise in changing the patient’s condition for the better.

        • Jennifer Paez

          You’ve gotta start somewhere, don’t you? Maybe on people who became comatose more recently it would have abetter effect.

    • Vedansh Shishodia

      Science is about evolution…what do you think It took us only one or two generations to become human from Monkeys or whatever………It takes time….although i do not support this as they are moving the command after stimulation therapy, so that person is not on its own, it is being controlled…

  • Jeff Van

    They need to stimulate all 12 nerves at once. The human body is an orchestra, not one string you pluck randomly.

    They need at least four wave mixing to produce the hologram of self awareness. Plucking strings to get a reaction from the body will cause an imbalance somewhere.

    Although there are sidebands that can mix from stimulating one nerve in the space around the brain, you want all major nerves vibrating and feeding back with the space around them.

    The space is where the field of consciousness is, rupert sheldrake calls it the morphogenic field. Just like free energy, if you pulse the space, the space will respond with a pulse of energy back.

    Antigravity is the same way, a high enough resonance will have you floating on the space between particles. Like a bumble bee.

    Consciousness is just a vibration, alpha etc…theta… But you need all the instruments for a full orchestra, voluntary and involuntary nerves need to be stimulated.

    I believe that once this research is perfected that we will be able to wind people back up , so to speak until they regain there own self resonance.

    Just like free energy, just like anti gravity.

    • Fred Scuttle

      You need to get them your phone number right away so the doctors can consult with you on how best to proceed.

  • janvones

    In other words, Terri Schiavo was_murdered.

    • Beth Gibson

      When they did an autopsy on her, they said that her brain had shrunk to a quarter its normal size. After fifteen years, would this same shrinkage have happened to this man, with the inference that there wouldn’t be an intelligence left?

      • janvones

        The husband, who abused her, disallowed any attempt at therapy whatsoever. Anyone who has seen the pictures or video of her smiling at her parents’ visits will know she was not a vegetable. Of course her brain would shrink from deprivation. I suffered mere muscle wasting when kept in bed on bloodthinners for just a week when I was hospitalized. Again, Sciavo was murdered judicially, and GWB has a share of the blame in not taking her into federal custody.

        • Tossaway

          So, how much did you personally contribute to the fund for her care?

        • gimpi1

          Virtually everything you said is a lie. Please stop lying. It’s destructive.

        • Harriett W Kirby

          My son responded to voices and laughter just as a baby does …… look up the word prosody.

    • Rick


  • Carl Kruse

    I would be interested in what the doctors consider to be “limited recovery” but in any case salute their efforts and research.

  • JohnSandel

    The headline is a LIE. I have it on authority that, after fifteen years in a vegetative state, the first thing those scientists did was ask for some mouthwash.

  • Rick

    I wonder whether the guy appreciated being partially brought back.

    • Tom W

      Soon as he found out Trump was president he jumped off a cliff.

    • Harriett W Kirby

      As the parent of a son who was in a vegetative state for 8 years, this was my first response to this article. I recognize research is done in small increments, but I would never condemn someone to just enough consciousness to be cognizant of their surroundings and their body condition without being able to communicate in a meaningful way. I always feared my son was “locked in”.

  • Tony Randel

    Reading these comments makes me think we should concentrate our efforts on putting people INTO vegetative states.

  • Hollis Hanover

    Good stuff. The more we know, the more we will know in the future. The nature of consciousness is opaque and everything we learn about it is helpful. What is not helpful is appraising interim results as complete. Science takes time and lots of it.

  • The History Man

    Why don’t we simply allow people to die with dignity? A non-life in a semi vegetative state is never going to be something worth fighting for.

  • Andrew T

    Interesting I do know, a fair bit, about Brain Damage- mine has been damaged, by a disease. However, agree with Rick here, I wonder if this man really wants, to be, ‘Brought Back’. Maybe just let him die, in peace, and stop ..cking about!

  • Patti Nakano

    I can’t fathom anyone allowing a person to be kept in a vegetative state for 15 years. It must be like being kept alive in hell. Even if there are research benefits, to what end?

  • Solgirl

    Amazing development. Hope the patient continues to improve.

  • Judith Renwick

    The scientists were in a vegetative state for 15 years?


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