MGH-UCLA HUMAN CONNECTOME PROJECT
Hard Science

World First: Ultrasound Used to “Jump-Start” Patient’s Brain out of a Coma

He regained full consciousness and language comprehension in just three days. Now, doctors are looking to 'wake up' others.

Ramon PerezAugust 26th 2016
News
MGH-UCLA HUMAN CONNECTOME PROJECT

Waking Up “Asleep”

Unfortunately, waking up from a coma doesn’t mean you’re A-OK. Rather, it just marks the start of the battle.

Individuals who are recovering face the possibility of waking up with a disorder of consciousness (DOC), such as the vegetative state (VS) or the minimally conscious state (MCS). Both of these conditions could result in severe brain injury, and even if this is avoided, fully recovering from a coma could take a very, very long time.

However, a 25-year old man has made “incredible” progress after being the first person to receive a new UCLA treatment…one that “jump-started” his brain out of a coma.

The findings were published in the journal Brain Stimulation.

Jump-Starting His Brain, Now His Life

The treatment, called low-intensity focused ultrasound pulsation, was led by Martin Monti, a UCLA associate professor of psychology and neurosurgery.

The researchers targeted the thalamus with low-intensity focused ultrasound pulsation. - UCLA Newsroom
The researchers targeted the thalamus with low-intensity focused ultrasound pulsation. – UCLA Newsroom

As its name suggests, the treatment made use of sonic stimulation to stir up the neurons in the thalamusthe brain’s focal center for processing information. This was done because, as previous assertions likely made clear, doctors hoped that this would help “jump-start” his brain back to functionality. And notably, according to the UCLA Newsroom’s release, the patient has regained full consciousness and full language comprehension just after three days.

Heck, he even fist-bumped one of his doctors to say “goodbye!”

“The changes were remarkable,” says Martin Monti, UCLA associate professor of psychology and neurosurgery. “It’s almost as if we were jump-starting the neurons back into function.”

Furthering the Technique

At this point, the reliability of Monti’s treatment requires further study—which means that he needs to have additional patients in order to determine whether it could be used consistently as a treatment for people who are in a coma.

“It is possible that we were just very lucky and happened to have stimulated the patient just as he was spontaneously recovering,” Monti said.

But if the study pans out, the treatment could eventually be used to build a low-cost, portable device to help “wake up” patients completely from their comas.

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