For the first time, researchers in Canada were able to communicate with a patient who has been in vegetative (coma) condition for the last 12 years. A magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanner was used to look at the patients brain, after asking him a series of questions. Amazingly, the patient replied “yes”, or “no” to questions like “are you in hospital?”, and reported that he knows his name.
“This new technique takes communication with some patients who are assumed to be in a vegetative state to the next level,” said researcher Adrian Owen. “It will make detecting who is conscious and who is not much faster and more reliable and for those who are conscious, communicating their wishes will be that much easier.”
Researchers communicated with the patient two separate times, five months apart. They were able to find out that tha patient is aware of his environment, meaning he maintains coherent thought.
“For the first time, we showed that a patient clinically diagnosed as “vegetative” can use his attention to show that he is conscious, and to communicate with the outside world,” said the lead researcher on the new study at Western University in London, Lorina Naci.”Frequently, after a severe injury to the brain, patients lose their ability to make any physical responses,” added Ms. Naci.
Ms. Naci and Mr. Owen plan to continue using this method of communicating with behaviourally non-responsive patients, who, similarly, may have been misdiagnosed as being in a vegetative state.
According to Ms Naci, the interpretation of human thought from brain activity – without depending on speech or action – is one of the most provoking and challenging frontiers of modern neuroscience.