Photo: Aurore Thibaut
The team was lead by Aurore Thibaut, a neuroscientist, while the study itself may become groundbreaking in terms of serving in-deep-comatose patients, both affected by the lack of motor functions and deprived of any contact with the outside world.
There was the transcranial Direct Current Stimulation (tDCS) method applied throughout the experiment, as based on using electrodes attached to one's head, meant to stimulate one's prefrontal cortex (responsible for controlling the state of consciousness) with the use of low current.
Initially, there were two patients in permanent vegetative state becoming capable of moving their body parts on their own after two hours having passed from the medical treatment. In an effort to go further, the team have selected another group of 16 individuals, both having their brains irreversibly damaged and lives artificially sustained by medical appliances, with no attempts at communication undertaken for the minimum-held period of 3 months. At the end of said week, two patients could respond to questions and move their body parts, while 9 more could demonstrate signs of consciousness. The effect lasted for the successive week.
"We need to be careful", explains Thibault. "What is happening to given patients during such stimulation needs to be subject to verification, e.g. when it is applied for 5 hours a day or throughout three-month-lasting treatment", she adds. The researchers have not yet determined whether low current solely stimulates selected parts of brain or whether it reaches its deeper parts, thus entailing the risk of altering the functions that should be left intact.
The tDCS method has already been used on a wide scale, while it has never been previously applied to those in permanent vegetative state. It is currently used in conscious patients (often as home-applied) who ? by having their cerebral cortex subject to stimulation ? are either given the opportunity of having their recovery accelerated or improve their psychophysical skills through such provided neuromodulation. Further research will allow for specifying the efficiency of this metod in in-deep-comatose patients or those who have their brains damaged.
Source: New Scientist