COUNCIL CHRONICLE – A 35-year-old French man has recovered a significant amount of consciousness after a car collision left him in a vegetative state for 15 years.
French researchers used an experimental treatment known as vagal nerve stimulation (VNS) to return the man to a “minimally conscious state”. While not a full recovery, this is still considered as being a step in the right direction.
Since the general consensus is that a vegetative state is irreversible after a year, this case may bring about new ways of thinking about and treating patients in this state.
Patient in Vegetative State Shows Improvement after 1 Month of Treatment
This case, reported in the journal Current Biology, a journal that publishes research from all areas of biology, opens up new possibilities for using VNS and other types of stimulation in treating vegetative states.
Vagus Nerve Stimulation is an approved therapy for refractory epilepsy and treatment-resistant depression. It refers to any technique that stimulates the vagus nerve. The researchers believed that VNS functionally reorganizes the thalamocortical network, increasing metabolism in the forebrain, thalamus, and reticular formation.
By restructuring and activating the thalamocortical network, researchers sought to increase behavioral responsiveness and awareness. To test this, they began testing the effects of VNS on the cortical activity of the patient.
After one month of treatment, the researchers found that the treatment had resulted in improvements in the patient’s awareness, movement, brain activity, and the ability to track moving objects with his eyes. Brain scans and scores on the Coma Recovery Scale-Revised also reflected these improvements.
The data showed that the patient was now in a minimally conscious state. While this is only a single case and does not reflect the likeness that the treatment will be effective in the larger population, it does open up the possibility of using novel treatments in trying to help vegetative state patients.
Because patients suffering from this condition can experience many different types of brain damage or injury, this case also does not make clear who in particular might benefit from this treatment.
From this point, more research is needed to determine which patients might benefit from this treatment. Studies with larger sample sizes that take into account different types of brain injuries can help identify who might best benefit from this kind of therapy.
For now, the fact that this particular case showed some improvement after 15 years is enough to give hope that new treatments might give patients a new chance at life.
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