A severely brain-injured man showed marked improvements after treatment with deep brain stimulation, a technique in which surgically implanted electrodes deliver electrical impulses to the brain. For six years the patient, who sustained head trauma during a violent assault, had been in a minimally conscious state—he could not communicate verbally, and he only sporadically seemed to be aware of himself and his surroundings. After the procedure, the 38-year-old man’s attention, verbal and motor skills improved during intervals of brain stimulation, report researchers led by Nicholas D. Schiff of Weill Cornell Medical College. Over the course of a year the patient became able to speak intelligible words, chew and swallow food, and use objects in a purposeful manner (such as bringing a cup to his lips).
Although the results are promising, the researchers caution that every brain injury is unique; much more work is needed to understand whether the treatment with deep brain stimulation is truly responsible for the patient’s improvement and to find out if the procedure can help others. The team is currently planning a more extensive study of 12 minimally conscious patients, to be completed in about two years.
This article was originally published with the title Shocked into Consciousness.