Researchers Restore Consciousness in Man After 15 Years in a Vegetative State

Chances of survival in most of the cases involving a comatose state in a patient; be it the result of trauma or not are bleak, to say the least.

So far medical science and research have been at a standstill when it comes to treating those who are in a vegetative state.

It has been recorded that the chances of survival, if any are the highest during the first month of consciousness loss, gradually dropping after the 3-month mark. After a 12-month existence in the vegetative state, a patient is considered to be lost to the world.

This is indeed sad and unfortunate; however, a recent research seems to be promising when it comes to treating comatose consciousness.

The team behind this study; which was published in Current Biology, involved clinicians lead by Jacques Luaute and researchers from the Institut des Sciences Cognitives (ISC) Marc Jeannerod in Lyon, lead by Angela Sirigu.

Together they conducted procedures on a patient who was in a vegetative state for the past 15 years after a car accident.

They tried an existing scientific technique which has been in use for treating depression preventing seizures in people with epilepsy. This method is known as VNS which stands for Vagus Nerve Stimulation.

In this method, the vagus nerve is used to send pulses of electrical energy to the brain. The stimulator is programmed to produce very mild pulses which won’t harm the nerve.

The vagus nerve is extremely important, being the longest of the cranial nerves. It is vital for maintaining a number of essential functions such as walking, and alertness.

Patients who are in a comatose or a vegetative state are usually considered to be impossible cases. This case of a 35-year-old man, who spent the last 15 years being comatose too was being considered a lost cause.

This is why this case was chosen so as to make sure that there could be no probability of the improvement to be because of chance or fortune. Just after a month of the vagus nerve stimulator being implanted on him, he started exhibiting signs of minimal consciousness being restored.

The patient had enhanced response capabilities. His eyes could follow moving objects and he could even turn his head on being asked. The attention span was improved as well as the patient was able to stay awake while his therapist read a book to him. There was a marked increase in his brain activities.

The ECG signal activity was recorded and was found increased. There was even progress in neural functional connectivity as the metabolic activity too showed an increase.

He even responded by widening his eyes when an object was moved too close to him suddenly, thereby showing his ability to perceive a threat.

Even though it was a single case, yet the findings can’t be ignored. To be restored to even minimal consciousness after 15 years of being comatose is something which was earlier considered a clinical impossibility.

Hopefully, after a collaborative study with more such cases, some more concrete conclusions could be made.