Man in vegetative state revived after 15 years

Posted Sep 27, 2017 by Tim Sandle
After 15 years in a vegetative state, a 35-year-old man regained consciousness through a novel method involving nerve stimulation.
Scar tissue creates a barrier for regrowth of nerve cells after spinal cord injury. Scientists have ...
Scar tissue creates a barrier for regrowth of nerve cells after spinal cord injury. Scientists have now found a way to render this cell wall more permeable to allow for regeneration
Copyright:Photo: Max Planck Institute of Neurobiology
The man has been in a vegetative state since a car accident fifteen years ago. He now shows signs of consciousness following a procedure whereby neurosurgeons implanted a vagus nerve stimulator into his chest. The method built upon other forms of vagus nerve stimulation which have been used to treat conditions like epilepsy and depression.
The vagus nerve is the tenth cranial nerve. It extends from the brain stem, through the neck and down into the abdomen (it is sometimes called the “pneumogastric nerve.”) Across this nerve "superhighway," the network crisscrosses with several organs.
According to the lead scientist, Angela Sirigu of Institut des Sciences Cognitives Marc Jeannerod in Lyon, France: "by stimulating the vagus nerve, we show that it is possible to improve a patient's presence in the world."
Consciousness is a descriptor for our awareness of, and response to, ourselves, other people and our environment. It can be define on many levels; for the purposes of the research it was defined as activity within certain neural pathways within the region of the brain called the rostral dorsolateral pontine tegmentum.
After one month of vagal nerve stimulation, the man's attention, movements and brain activity significantly improved. In terms of what this meant for the patient, he was able to follow an object with his eyes and also to turn his head upon request. The improvements were confirmed by alternations to the man's brain activity, as shown by electroencephalograms. This success will lead to further study.
The pioneering new research has been published in the journal Current Biology, with the research paper titled "Restoring consciousness with vagus nerve stimulation."
The study adds to further research about vagus nerve stimulation and its potential as a treatment. Digital Journal has previous covered stores on how deep brain stimulation has been used as a treatment of paralysis; and to treat depression, where the vagus nerve is stimulated through electrodes placed onto each ear.