Entering into a coma is dangerous. A period of prolonged unconsciousness, where the brain acts at minimal activity could lead into a persistent vegetative state. There is neither a time frame nor a course of action that could predict and aid in the assistance of patients who fall ill. In fact, up until this point, time was the only treatment. Now, researchers from the psychiatry and biobehavioral department at the University of California – Los Angeles has uncovered a new technique that could bring patients from their coma, back to reality.
A coma, is a period of unconsciousness where the brain produces minimal activity. During this period, a patient could not be awaken, and do not show any signs of awareness. Over time, if this is persistent, the body could enter into a permanent vegetative state, and lack any ability of regaining consciousness. As to what causes a coma, there are several reasons why, such as a traumatic brain injury, severe intoxication, strokes and even tumors. Also, those with diabetes are at risk of falling into a diabetic coma if they’re unable to monitor their blood sugar levels properly. There are no treatments currently, but patients who do awaken go through intensive therapies to recover motor skills, brain function, and awareness.
Recently, the psychiatry and biobehavioral department at University of California – Los Angeles made a break through discovery in a new, novel method in jump starting the brain. In all cases of patients in a coma, there is a diminishing of brain wave function to the thalamus. The thalamus is important for many reasons, mainly as the relay station for sensation, which picks up sensations from different parts of the body and sends those impulses to the cerebral cortex. Without this function, people would not be able to feel any senses, or be able to react, which affects coma patients.
The method, which was tested on one man who was in a coma, was an application of ultrasound waves applied directly to the head in order to spark the neurons to react. The use of ultrasound therapy has been accepted as an efficient tool in many types of injuries, including breaking kidney stones, bone fracture healing, cataract removal and much more. This is the first time though that the therapy has ever been directly applied to the skull, in the hopes of reawakening neurons.
The clinical application was experiment, and only one test, which proved successful has been tested. The man, who was in a coma, had minimal consciousness and recognition of verbal commands. The application was in short bursts, thirty seconds on and thirty seconds off for a total of ten minutes. Three days after the procedure, the patient regained full consciousness, and full language comprehension, with the ability to respond to questions in headshakes of either yes or no.
More research and clinical trials must be conducted to prove whether this could be an effective therapy. Researchers are hopeful that this therapy could be innovative way of reawakening coma patients, but testing must continue in order to distinguish between a fluke of luck, or if they have discovered a new treatment.
COPYRIGHT: This article is property of We Speak Science, a non profit institution co-fonded by Dr. Detina Zalli (Harvard University) and Dr. Argita Zalli (Imperial College London). The article is written by Antonio Del Vecchio (Cornell University) under supervision of Dr. Detina Zalli.
- http://the-trumpet-online.com/study-shows-hope-patients-vegetative-coma/ (picture one)
- http://www.mhhe.com/socscience/intro/ibank/ibank/0013lll.jpg (picture two)