Researchers at UCLA have developed a breakthrough non-invasive technique using ultrasound to jump-start the brain of coma patients.
The technique involves exciting the neurons of thalamus with the help of sonic stimulations. Thalamus is a small oval shaped structure in the brain that is crucial for processing variety of information. The brain stimulation of patients in vegetative state or those recovering from coma is usually done by implanting electrodes inside thalamus surgically.
"It's almost as if we were jump-starting the neurons back into function," said Martin Monti, the lead author of the study and an associate professor of psychology and neurosurgery at UCLA, in a press release. "Until now, the only way to achieve this was a risky surgical procedure known as deep brain stimulation, in which electrodes are implanted directly inside the thalamus. Our approach directly targets the thalamus but is noninvasive."
According to the report published in the journal Brain Stimulation, the new ultrasound technique has helped doctors to improve the condition of a 25-year-old coma patient exceptionally. The patient who could perform limited movements when asked by doctors is said to have regained complete consciousness in just three days of treatment. The patient, who achieved full language comprehension, communicated efficiently by nodding and shaking his head for "yes" and "no" respectively.
For the purpose of the study, the researchers attached a saucer shaped device that creates acoustic energy to the patient's head. The small sphere of energy which is less than the conventional Doppler ultrasound excited the tissues of the brain.
The researchers activated the device 30 seconds for around 10 times in the patient under study for about 10 minutes. The target of stimulation in the patient is thalamus since the functions of thalamus is diminished for any patient in coma. The medications prescribed for patients with such brain conditions are reportedly those that indirectly target thalamus.
"It is possible that we were just very lucky and happened to have stimulated the patient just as he was spontaneously recovering," Monti said. "The changes were remarkable."
The official report has it that the doctors are set to experiment the technique in several other coma patients this fall at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center with the direction of Paul Vespa, a neurology and neurosurgery professor at UCLA's David Geffen School of Medicine.
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