Scientists from the Institute of Cognitive Sciences in Lyon (France), led by Angela Sirigu (Angela Sirigu) found that stimulation of the vagus nerve can partially remove the victims of severe car accidents from the vegetative state. An article about this, published in the journal Current Biology , retells the site of the journal Science .
The wandering nerve (vagus) goes from the brain to the abdominal cavity. Its stimulation (vagus nerve stimulation, VNS) is based on the implantation of a micro stimulator into the chest, which supplies nerve with electric microshocks equal to about one hundredth of the voltage created by a battery in a wristwatch. This technique is used to treat a variety of conditions, from depression to cluster headaches and epilepsy.
Sirigu and her colleagues implanted a vagus nerve microstimulator to a patient who fell into a vegetative state after a severe car accident, and applied VNS to him for a month. A month later, the patient experienced some limited improvement in the condition: for example, he could already follow the eyes of the object that was being driven in front of his face, and turn his head at the request. The level of activity of neurons in several zones of his brain increased, and – what, according to Sirigu, was the most important – his brain began to produce stronger theta waves, which correlates with being in a more conscious state.
Scientists continued to stimulate the patient’s vagus nerve. Nine months later, they stated that there was no further improvement, but it stabilized at the same level that was achieved in a month. That is, in comparison with the situation before the beginning of the experiment, there was considerable progress.
On what was this effect based? Sirigu offers the following explanation. Perhaps, she believes, after the trauma the patient’s thalamus continued trying to “connect” with other parts of the brain, but without success, because the connection between them was severely disrupted. (It is the thalamus that regulates the level of consciousness.) VNS also increased the power of the thalamus signals, allowing it to partially break through to other parts of the brain.
Other scientists are still skeptical about these findings. Nicholas Schiff, a neuroscientist at the Well Cornell Medical Center in New York, pointed out that the data of the experiment on one patient is clearly not enough. And in order to generalize them, it is necessary to put the experiment on several patients, even though the VNS technique is quite expensive, and it will hardly be possible to convince the medical insurance company to pay for its application.
Recall that in 2014 another scientific team was able (for a short time) to remove patients from the vegetative state by the method of transcranial electrostimulation .
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