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Oct 16, 2006

Deep brain stimulation may help revive head-trauma victims

From WashingtonPost.com

Researchers at Cornell University's Weill Medical College in New York, the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio and the JFK Johnson Rehabilitation Institute in Edison, N.J., have tried deep-brain stimulation (a procedure that involves inserting tiny electrodes into the brain to stimulate specific regions) on a patient in a minimally conscious state. In previous studies, DBS has been successfully used for treating Parkinson's disease, severe pain, epilepsy, depression or obsessive-compulsive disorder.

The patient was a 38-year-old man who had suffered a severe brain injury that left him in a minimally conscious state for six years, unable to communicate or function. After an intensive four-month evaluation to assess his capabilities, surgeons at the Cleveland Clinic implanted electrodes into parts of his brain known as the thalamus, believed to be involved in helping integrate the functions of other areas.

According to the researchers, the stimulation promoted significant improvement in the man's abilities to move, communicate and function, including his abilities to eat and respond verbally. They reported that even when the stimulation is off, the patient continues to demonstrate improved "gestural and verbal communication abilities," which suggests that the stimulation may be having lasting effects on his brain. These findings were presented at a meeting of the Society for Neuroscience in Atlanta.