BBC Earth (Asia) - - Special Feature -

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

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