ISC Marc Jeannerod has conducted a research with stunning effects. The study proves that a brain stimulation through the vagus nerve can bring back consciousness to patients that were in a vegetative state for a long period of time.
THE ELECTRICAL STIMULATION PROCESS
A new “wake-up” method was presented by a group of clinicians and scientists from the Institut des Sciences Cognitives (ISC) Marc Jeannerod located in Lyon, France. They managed to reinstate signs of consciousness of a 35-year old man who has been in a vegetative state for nearly 15 years, by using the new method known as vagus nerve stimulation (VNS). Until now, the patients with consciousness disorders, which were fallen in a state known as “coma” or completely vegetative state, were considered for nearly impossible to move from that point. The chances were really small, the outcome-unknown. Luckily, we might never look at these states of mind in the same way ever again.
The VNS method actually uses the vagus nerve to send gentle pulses of electrical energy at regular intervals to the brain. It is also used to prevent seizures to people who are suffering from epilepsy and to treat depression. The vagus nerve is the longest cranial nerve in our body, which connects the brain to different parts of the body, including the gut, and has essential meaning for some of our body functions like walking or alertness.
The first one to try on the VNS method was a patient who had suffered a terrible car crash, and as a result, had been in a vegetative state for a long period of time – about 15 years. Dr. Jacques Luauté and his team of clinicians implanted a vagus nerve stimulator into his chests. The researchers led by Angela Sirigu from the ISC Marc Jeannerod kept an eye on the case and published the amazing results in the journal Current Biology.
PERMANENT NO MORE
The first signs of recovery were visible one month past the surgery. The man who wasn’t responding to the surroundings at all was slowly recovering response capabilities. He started responding to commands, such as turning the head when asked or following an object with the eyes. Further on, he managed to stay awake while the therapist was reading a book for him. Also, when someone would get closer to his face, he would open his eyes wider- indicating that the ability to perceive “threats” was recovered too.
The brain tests that were made on a regularly base afterward, confirmed that the brain function has improved. They found an enlargement of the theta ECG signal activity in the areas of the brain that are essential for the body to be able to move, feel and be conscious. The results of these tests are very important because they provide information for the researchers to help them make a difference between a minimally conscious state and a vegetative state. Further on, the PET scan of the brain showed that there is enlargement in metabolic activity, in the brain’s cortical and subcortical regions, which means that the neutral functional connectivity has improved too.
This study has proven that consciousness can be restored even when the brain hasn’t been functioning for a long period of time. The treatment was conducted to a patient, which was believed that couldn’t be brought to a normal state of mind ever again. This patient was picked up on purpose, a man who had lived for 15 years with no brain activity, so they can eliminate the opportunity that the results will be due to a chance and they managed to bring back several crucial functions of the brain. Before this research, it was believed that a brain with no activity for more than 12 months, can no longer be helped. As Sirigu said in a press release. “Brain plasticity and brain repair are still possible even when hope seems to have vanished.” Thus, he already announced that his and Luauté’s teams are determined in making even bigger studies to confirm these results.