Sound energy wakes patient
DOCTORS have woken a coma patient for the first time ever by jump-starting his brain using a pioneering ultrasound technique.
A saucer-sized device was put against the side of the 25-year-old patient’s head over a 10 minute period.
Each of the 10 half-minute, lowintensity pulses created acoustic energy to stimulate brain tissue.
The patient’s responses improved measurably within 24 hours. In three days he was fully conscious and had complete language comprehension.
He could nod his head “yes” or shake his head “no.” He even made a fist-bump gesture to say goodbye to one of his doctors.
The unnamed man, who had shown only minimal signs of being conscious before the treatment at University of California, Los Angeles, has made “remarkable” progress since.
The ultrasound wakes brain nerve cells in the thalamus, which controls movement and consciousness.
The breakthrough, reported in yesterday’s medical journal Brain Stimulation, may lead to the development of a low-cost, helmet-like, portable device to wake patients.
Experts believe even those in a vegetative or minimally conscious state could benefit. Currently, there is no effective treatment for such patients. Study lead author Dr Martin Monti, a professor of psychology and neurosurgery at UCLA, said: “The changes were remarkable. It’s almost as if we were jump-starting the neurons back into function.
“Until now, the only way to achieve this was a risky surgical procedure known as deep brain stimulation, in which electrodes are implanted directly inside the thalamus.
“Our approach directly targets the thalamus but is non-invasive.”
He said the procedure would need more testing before his team could determine if it could consistently help everyone to recover from comas.
Doctors now plan to test the procedure on several more patients.