This amazing story seems to have everyone talking. How does an electrical zap awaken someone from coma like state? This is the kind of thing that is reserved for episodes of Star Trek, and not in real life.
It seems that this man located in France has managed to regain certain elements of consciousness. And this was after remaining in a vegetative condition for the last 15 years. This came after surgeons utilized a method for brain stimulation through a nerve located in his neck.
This 35 year old man had been diagnosed in a vegetative state resulting from car crash 2001.
Someone in this state may exhibit involuntary movements, but would have zero self-awareness or even their environment. Even after repeated tests throughout the years this man’s state did not improve.
But then Angela Sirigu and her associates show up with a new method which focuses upon the vagus nerve. Sirigu comes from the French National Centre for Scientific Research which is located in Bron.
This vagus nerve stretches from the brain all the way to many areas throughout the body. It serves to modulate our parasympathetic nervous systems, which control the heart rate as well as lung function, and a few other processes.
It serves to connect, either indirectly or directly, to brain regions which include the thalamus – an extremely interconnected neural activity hub, the amygdala, which is how we regulate emotion, and finally the hippocampus, which is helps us with our memories. The nerve will also stimulate the locus coeruleus, a brain region which will control the release of certain brain chemicals that are involved in alertness and arousal.
Sirigu’s team has hypothesized that a stimulation of the vagus nerve would most likely boost activity in the brain regions which may help someone regain consciousness. “I believe that’s what happened,” says Sirigu.
How the Stimulation Theory Was Tested
In order to test this theory, this team took thin electrodes and wrapped them around the vagus nerve located in this man’s neck. After that, he was monitored and observed for a month prior to the nerve being stimulated. Then they administered treatment continuously for more than six months. Each of these treatments was consisted of a stimulation sessions lasting 30 seconds which was followed by 5 minutes of inactivity. The team originally began using a current of about 0.25 milliamperes, and then boosted that by 0.25 mA weekly until they reached 1.5 mA.
Researchers rigorously monitored any changes in his behavior all during the trial. Sirigu’s team constantly recorded all the EEG signals coming from the scalp prior to stimulation began and then again at selected points during the trial. They were also scanning his brain through the use of positron emission tomography right after these electrodes had been implanted and also six months afterwards.
Then the Actual Procedure Occurred
Right after these stimulations began, the man started opening his eyes much more often. And then after about a month, he started tracking people around his room using his eyes. Also, he demonstrated an ability to react to various requests of turning his head from side to side. And he also tried to smile when instructed. The team has yet to ask him questions direct questions, like whether or not he was in any pain.
The most encouraging thing his score upon the “coma recovery scale” which indicated that he could now be defined as someone who’s in the minimally conscious state – which state that a person possesses partial conscious awareness.
The man has yet to regain abilities to walk or talk, which is not expected, because of the level of brain damage he has. However, the team continues to learn from his progress.