Traces Found in the Brain Provokes Research on Patients In Vegetative States

BELGIUM- A man who was once in a coma has lead scientists and doctors to look more into the brains activity when a patient is unconscious. This study has shown that while in a vegetative state, there were traces of thought going through the mind of the patient when spoken to by doctors or nurses. These studies can completely change how patients are diagnosed when they endure head trauma and provoke future studies of brain activity.
The subject of patients in a coma is very controversial and has made researchers, scientists and doctors very interested in this topic. Many ethical questions come into play when dealing with patients in vegetative states such as whether to take them off life- support or keep them alive etc. In recent documents from the New England Journal of Medicine it is said that there are consistently mind boggling questions and debates that doctors and families have to deal with when a patient or a loved one is non responsive and in a coma. The big topic that came up was if a patient is in a coma and can communicate that he or she wants to die, can the doctors kill them when they are not fully conscious?
But now, researchers have found that the brain is not completely turned off while in a coma. As reported in the New York Times, researchers in Britain and Belgium studied 54 patients living in stable unconsciousness. Out of these patients, 23 were considered to be in a “vegetative state,” which means that they could not communicate with people in the outside world. The others were considered “minimally conscious,” meaning they were sometimes able to communicate with doctors and nurses when spoken to just my flinching or blinking an eye. In 2006, the same research group reported that a women who was in a vegetative state showed certain parts of the brain lit up when they took an imaging scan of her brain, after being commanded or spoken to by a doctor or nurse. When they commanded her to think of different things such as playing tennis and activities like that, her motor cortex which is a part in her brain, lit up on the cat scan in the same place where it would light up on a person who is fully aware and conscious. Other commands such as thinking of being in her house caused the spatial areas in her brain to light up as well. This study has showed that while taking MRIs and cat scans of the brain of patients in a coma, doctors gave a command or a thought to the patient, and certain parts of the brain lit up in the same place that a person’s brain that’s fully conscious lit up. Dr. James L. Bernat, a professor of neurology at Dartmouth Medical School quoted, “I’m convinced as an observer that in these few cases, the M.R.I. technique, in these researchers’ hands, gives us a window into human consciousness that we have not had and that potentially adds to the clinical exam we currently use,” After this study came out, more and more studies have been conducted to further this matter.

These studies have provided scientists and doctors with a basis of research and in the future, they are planning more studies to gather more information on the topic which can help patients in a coma, and their families tremendously. Adrian Owen, a University of Cambridge neuroscientist who was quoted in the New England Journal of Medicine said “It was incredible, "These are patients who are totally unable to perform functions with their bodies — even blink an eye or move an eyebrow — but yet are entirely conscious. It's quite distressing, really, to realize this."





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