After a serious car accident and interned in a French hospital for 15 years in a vegetative state, a 35-year-old man was submitted to an experimental therapy. A nerve stimulator was implanted into the man’s chest with the objective of reaching the vagal system, the nucleus of the motor system. The patient made advancement that before were considered impossible.
Within a month, he could respond to simple instructions, turning his head and following an object with his eyes. Experts say the results are potentially very exciting. The patient’s mother reported that her son had an improved ability to stay awake when listening to his therapist reading a book. And brain scans reflected this improvement as presented in the report published in Current Biology magazine. He also started responding to “threats”. For instance, when the doctor’s head suddenly approached the patient’s face, he reacted with surprise, opening his eyes wide.
“This might be an interesting new lead, but I would suggest being cautious about these results until they are reproduced in more patients,” says Vladimir Litvak, from University College London’s Institute of Neurology, in London.
The vagus nerve connects the brain to many parts of the body and helps control automatic or subconscious functions, including alertness and wakefulness. The stimulation may not work as effectively in patients with different patterns of brain damage. But Angela Sirigu, from the Institut des Sciences Cognitives Marc Jeannerod, in Lyon, France, said she chose a really challenging patient to test the treatment.
“Brain plasticity and brain repair are still possible even when hope seems to have vanished. After this case report, we should consider testing larger populations of patients,” said Angela. “This treatment can be important for minimally conscious patients by giving them more chances to communicate with the external world.” Click here for the full article.