Doctors normally consider the damage from a traumatic brain injury irreparable after a person spends more than a year in a vegetative state. However, researchers at the French National Center have induced signs of consciousness in a man who was in a vegetative state for the last 15 years due to brain injury.
This 35-year-old patient suffered a traumatic brain injury in a car accident. Doctors used a new technique called vagus nerve stimulation (VNS) to restore consciousness in that patient. The vagus nerve is one of the most important parts of our nervous system because it links the brain to the rest of the body. VNS is also referred to as a “pacemaker for the brain,” and is used in treatment for neurological issues, such as epilepsy, migraines, and depression.
The VNS technique was tried on the patient for six months. After just one month of stimulation, the man showed a number of improvements. Neuroscientist and study co-author Angela Sirigu said that an electroencephalogram and a PET scan showed increased brain activity.
“After VNS, the patient could respond to simple orders that were impossible before,” Sirigu said. He was able to follow an object with his gaze, and turn his head on verbal request.
According to Sirigu, this means that “brain plasticity and brain repair are still possible even when hope seems to have vanished.”