After 15 Years in a Vegetative State, Scientists Partly Restore Consciousness in Patient

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

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
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  • 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.

    • 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.

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