In France, a man has regained a degree of consciousness after being in a vegetative state for 15 years
A man injured in a car accident was treated by doctors with an experimental therapy that involved implanting a nerve stimulator into his chest.
In a month from the implant, he could respond to simple instructions, turn his head and follow an object with his eyes. As a consequence, experts say that the results are potentially exciting, but need to be repeated.
However, VNS (vagal nerve stimulation) may not work as well in patients with different patterns of brain damage.
Angela Sirigu from the Institut des Sciences Cognitives Marc Jeannerod, in Lyon, said that it had chosen a really challenging patient to try the treatment on.
The vague nerve connects the brain to many other parts of the body and helps controlling the automatic or subconscious functions, including alertness and wakefulness.
After a month of this therapy, the patient’s mother reported an improved ability to stay awake. Brain scans also reflected the improvement.
More than that, when the doctor’s head suddenly approached the patient’s face, he reacted with surprise and opened his eyes wide, which is a great step.
Ms Sirigu said: “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.
“This treatment can be important for minimally conscious patients by giving them more chances to communicate with the external world.”