He Was Minimally Conscious, Until an Ultrasound Treatment

It's first time this type of ultrasound was used to jumpstart the brain
By Elizabeth Armstrong Moore,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 25, 2016 9:04 AM CDT
Scientists Wake Comatose Patient Using Only Ultrasound
A patient is examined during a scan session.   (AP Photo/Yves Logghe)

Scientists at the University of California, Los Angeles, are reporting on the "remarkable" recovery of a 25-year-old man who had been in a coma, following a simple and brief exposure to low-energy ultrasound targeting the thalamus; that's the part of the human brain that is typically impaired after a coma. This line from the paper in Brain Stimulation gives context: Many patients "fail to fully recover from coma, and awaken to a disorder of consciousness such as ... the minimally conscious state." In this case, the man went from the most minimal signs of being conscious to, three days later, regaining full consciousness and language comprehension, as well as limited communication skills such as nodding his head and doing a fist bump.

One of the researchers is Alexander Bystritsky, who pioneered the technique called low-intensity focused ultrasound pulsation, which is a lot like what it sounds like: The energy emitted isn't as high as in a normal ultrasound, and the energy was delivered for 30 seconds of every minute for 10 minutes. The researchers are keeping their excitement in check, however, given this is only a case study and it is possible that "we were just very lucky and happened to have stimulated the patient just as he was spontaneously recovering." But they do think it's quite possible they helped "jumpstart" the man's brain by exciting the neurons in the most affected region. "Targeting the thalamus" in cases like these "has been successful in the past," an outside researcher tells the Observer, but those cases required invasive surgery. (This mom awoke from a coma to learn she has a baby.)

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