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15 Years in Vegetative State, Man Responds to Vagus Nerve Stimulation

15 Years in Vegetative State, Man Responds to Vagus Nerve Stimulation
(Screengrab of Twitter post/@neuroconscience)

By    |   Tuesday, 26 September 2017 08:14 AM

After 15 years in a vegetative state, a man is responding to vagus nerve stimulation therapy, a treatment currently used to treat depression and epilepsy.

The man, who suffered a traumatic brain injury in a car crash at 20, showed signs of a "minimally conscious" state after receiving an experimental form of low-intensity nerve stimulation, Science magazine reported on Monday.

The vagus nerve stimulation treatment involved implanting a palm-sized, disk-shaped stimulator that gives off miniscule electrical shocks — less than a hundredth of the electrical current in a battery-powered wrist watch — to the vagus nerve.

The nerve is a critical brain signal superhighway that delivers information from the brain stem to the heart, esophagus, lungs, digestive tract, and other parts of the body, per Science.

The medical team, led by Angela Sirigu, a cognitive neuroscientist at the Institute for Cognitive Sciences–Marc Jeannerod in Lyon, France, implanted the nerve stimulator in the crash victim’s chest, then continuously stimulated the nerve.

"Our results show major changes at the brain level," Sirigu said, per CNN. "… A brain rhythm previously shown to distinguish vegetative from minimally conscious state patients, significantly increased," particularly in areas important for "movement, body sensations and awareness."

Sirigu said a PET scan, a type of imaging test, also showed increases in metabolic activity in the brain, CNN said.

Steven Laureys, who has worked extensively with people with impaired consciousness, at the University of Liege in Belgium, told New Scientist magazine that news of the study is encouraging.

"Clinicians for way too long have considered patients of unresponsive wakefulness as just waiting to die," Laureys said, per New Scientist. "And that is not true. There is some capacity for plasticity, and this is one other study showing that there can be changes. I'm convinced that vagus nerve stimulation is a potential new treatment."

Some, though, expressed skepticism about the results.

"I'm not saying their claim is untrue," Andrew Cole, a neurologist at Harvard Medical School in Boston who studies consciousness, told Science magazine. "I'm just saying it's hard to interpret based on the results as presented."

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After 15 years in a vegetative state, a man is responding to vagus nerve stimulation therapy, a treatment currently used to treat depression and epilepsy.
15 years, vegetative, state, man, responds, vagus nerve, stimulation
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2017-14-26
Tuesday, 26 September 2017 08:14 AM
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