CONSCIOUSNESS RESTORED IN MAN AFTER 15 YEARS IN A VEGETATIVE STATE
A 35-year-old man who had been in a vegetative state for 15 years following a car accident has shown signs of consciousness after receiving pioneering nerve stimulation therapy. The outcome challenges the belief that disorders of consciousness that persist for longer than 12 months are irreversible.
The procedure, which was carried out by a team of neuroscientists based at the Institut des Sciences Cognitives Marc Jeannerod in Lyon, France, involved implanting a device into his chest to stimulate his vagus nerve – a major nerve that runs down through the body from the brainstem and is involved in walking and many other important motor functions. The same therapy is used to treat seizures.
One month after the implant, the man went from being in a completely vegetative state to being able to turn his head, follow objects with his eyes and listen to his therapist reading a book.
Recordings of brain activity also revealed major changes in areas of the brain involved in movement, sensation, and awareness. After many years in a nonresponsive state, he had entered a state of minimal consciousness.
“Brain plasticity and brain repair are still possible even when hope seems to have vanished,” said lead author Dr Angela Sirigu.
The researchers are now planning to extend the study to further investigate the technique.
A vagus nerve stimulator being used to treat epilepsy