Since the 1990s, stimulating the vagus nerve with an electrical current from a pacemaker-like device has been explored, with mixed results, as a treatment for neurological issues such as epilepsy, migraines and depression.
Doctors have a restored a man's consciousness after he spent 15 years in a vegetative state, NY Daily News reports. It's in charge of tasks like regulating heart rate, sweating and controlling muscles in the small intestine. What's more, he was able to respond to basic requests such as turning his head when asked, despite this taking a minute to achieve.
"Our study demonstrates the therapeutic potential of vagus nerve stimulation to modulate large-scale human brain activity and alleviate disorders of consciousness", the researchers, led by neurologist Angela Sirigu of Institut des Sciences Cognitives Marc Jeannerod in Lyon, France, conclude.
Stroke, and various injuries to the head often enter a person into a state that doctors call "brain death", when the body of the patient still live if to support him with artificial respiration and output of waste, but the brain is not functioning.
"We chose a patient who had been in a vegetative state for 15 years showing no signs of change since his auto accident", study lead author AngelaSirigu, director of the Institute of Cognitive Sciences - Marc Jeannerod in Lyon, France, said in a statement.
"That is, consciousness remains severely altered but, in contrast to the vegetative state, there is minimal but definite behavioural evidence of self or environmental awareness".
A new study suggests that a low-intensity stimulation of the brain may help people regain consciousness after having suffered a brain injury.
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A vegetative state is not a coma. These targeted the vagus nerve, which is considered to be a "critical brain signal superhighway" as it can send information from the brain stem to many parts of the body.
Examining the patient through EEG and PET scans revealed increased brain activity across several areas of the brain. This persisted up to five months of stimulation, said Sirigu.
The man showed significant improvements in attention, movement and brain activity after one month of vagal nerve stimulation, according to the report.
A new research has stated that a French man who was in a vegetative state for 15 years after a auto accident is now showing signs of consciousness, after neurosurgeons implanted a vagus nerve stimulator in his chest. The yellow and orange colors on the right indicate an increase of connectivity among posterior parietal regions. "The brain retains the ability to form new connections and fix itself, even in such a critical situation", said Angela Sirigu from the Institute of cognitive Sciences in Lyon (France).
"Before any stimulation, the patient scored 6/23 and at the end of the study, when the patient was on the maximum stimulation, he scored 8/23 on the functional scale", she said.
The research was published in the journal Current Biology.
The patient started tracking objects with his eyes, and he was also able to stay awake as another person read him a story, and once he even opened his eyes in surprise when an examiner suddenly moved her face closer to the patient's.