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.