Nerve Therapy Revives Consciousness Of Patients

A mere month ago, locked-in patients were given the opportunity to communicate via a computer interface. Now, researchers are using nerve therapy to revive the consciousness of patients in a persistent vegetative state.

The vagus nerve, which the treatment targeted, connects the brain to almost all the vital organs in the body, running from the brain stem down both sides of the neck, across the chest and into the abdomen. In the brain, it is linked directly to two regions known to play roles in alertness and consciousness.

The study, led by French scientists, brought a 35-year-old man out of PVS after being unresponsive for nearly 15 years. He can now track objects with his eyes and even turn his head when asked. Head of study Angela Sirigu believes the research can provide hope for families of locked-in patients.

“Personally I think it’s better to be aware, even if it’s a bad state, to be conscious of what’s happening. Then you can have a decision if you want to go on or if you want [euthanasia].”

At the very least, those in a locked-in state can be in control, which eliminates the nightmare of muscle loss.

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Paralyzed Woman Writes Book Using Only Her Eyes

Locked-in syndrome is a condition where the person loses all muscle control or becomes entirely paralyzed, while maintaining most cognitive functions. In simple terms, this means they can still think and feel, but cannot move or speak. Some people, however, have found technological leads on how to help locked-in patients communicate, such as this nanoscience professor who created a computer interface that helps them identify letters and words using only their eyes.

Using a similar device, a woman diagnosed with the syndrome wrote an entire book about her experience. Mia Austin was only 21 years old when she suffered a stroke that left her paralyzed, but now at 29, she finished her book In the Blink of an Eye using only eye movement, a spelling chart at first, and eventually the specialized computer.

Her mother Carole, 62, recalls: “She [Austin] was in the hospital for around 14 months and writing poems and stories kept her alert and occupied. I think the idea [for the book] stemmed from there really.”

According to her father Rick, the book took about a year to write. Meanwhile, Mia’s siblings also helped in her process, especially with the spelling chart, which took a lot of energy and made Mia exhausted. Despite this, Mia just doesn’t seem to run out of achievements.

The book is by no means Austin’s only incredible feat of determination. She completed a criminology course at Wirral Metropolitan College in 2017 before signing up for a forensics course with the Open University. And this year she will begin another course in criminal justice.

Aside from academics, Mia is also incredibly engaged in charity work. She launched a campaign for disabled travellers. She participated in awareness projects for homelessness. She has been on aid missions to orphanages even outside the country.

In an interview with The Mirror, Austin explained her desire to give back to the charities that have supported her. She said: “I love to take part in new challenges to prove I can succeed despite my condition. I also want to support various charities because I have received help myself in the past.”

Mia’s story sort of robs us of any excuse to waste our energy today, doesn’t it? It could just as well inspire us to push our minds and bodies to the limit from here on out.

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Computer Allows Locked-In Patients To Communicate

Victims of damaging accidents or conditions don’t always recover completely, but technology can improve their lifestyles. Medical algorithms can help patients with neurological disorders to walk again. The (not-so) humble iPhone can even act as a hearing aid. But for locked-in patients who have lost all muscle control, there aren’t many options for recuperation. Nonetheless, a nano-science professor at Georgia State University has created a new computer interface, allowing patients to communicate with their eyes.

Zhong Lin Wang and his colleagues describe a device, mounted to a pair of eyeglasses, that lies gently against the skin beside the eye and can feel the pressure, in the form of an electrical signal, as the skin presses against it during a blink.

As with any eye-based technology, Wang and his team are still working on the machine differentiating reflexive and intentional blinks. But so far, outcomes look great. Not only is the computer non-invasive, it’s, “stable, small, light, flexible, and low-cost” among other words in the thesaurus.

When placed on the temple of the glasses, the sensor sits gently against the wrinkle beside the user’s eye. That skin flexes slightly outward during a blink, bending the nanogenerator and sending an electrical signal.

The device continues to undergo testing, but things are certainly looking up for locked-in patients.

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