A new, common test showed it can determine a comatose patient's awareness indication and even the person's chances of waking up. The new research gives hope to families of comatose patients who are going through a tough time.

This common test, FDG-PET (fluorodeoxyglucose-PET), is a form of positron emission tomography (PET) scan that determines sugar metabolism or how much sugar the brain cells are consuming.

Hospitals are already using PET scanning to classify the patients who are in total comatose and those in partial comatose - a vegetative state wherein some parts remain aware.

The new study showed that the same test can predict if a comatose patient will still wake up. And the results are quite accurate.

The study's lead investigator Ron Kupers from Yale University and the University of Copenhagen said that their findings showed sustained consciousness requires a marginal energy requirement to help patients regain awareness following a brain injury.

In the study, the research team analyzed the sugar metabolism in the brains of 131 brain injury patients in either full or partial comatose.

Findings showed that comatose patients whose normal brain activity is less than 42 percent did not wake up after a year. In comparison, patients whose brain activity exceeded this mark successfully regained consciousness within a year.

The experiment provided accurate predictions for 94 percent of the patients who woke up from comatose.

"The discovery of a clear metabolic boundary between the conscious and unconscious states could imply that the brain undergoes a fundamental state change at a certain level of energy turnover," said co-author Johan Stender.

In a way, this type of consciousness "ignites" when the level of brain activity reaches a particular level, Stender added.

Kupers highlighted that consciousness is a process that demands large amounts of energy and it involves the brain in general. This central physiological characteristic can help doctors in predicting the chances of recovering awareness among comatose patients suffering from any grave type of brain injury.

The research was published in the journal Current Biology on May 26. The team stressed the importance of verifying the current findings among independent patient populations.

Photo: Ben Novakovic | Flickr

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