Scientists in the US have used low-intensity ultrasound to successfully jump-start the brain of a 25-year-old man recovering from coma, an advance that may lead to a portable device that can non invasively “wake up” patients who are in vegetative state.
The technique uses sonic stimulation to excite the neurones in the thalamus, an egg-shaped structure that serves as the brain’s central hub for processing information.
The patient has made remarkable progress following a treatment, researchers said.
“It’s almost as if we were jump-starting the neurones back into function,” said Martin Monti, from University of California, Los Angeles.
“Until now, the only way to achieve this was a risky surgical procedure known as deep brain stimulation, in which electrodes are implanted directly inside the thalamus,” Monti said.
“Our approach directly targets the thalamus but is noninvasive,” he added.
Monti cautioned that the procedure requires further study on patients before they determine whether it could be used consistently to help other people recovering from comas.
Researchers used a device about the size of a coffee cup saucer which creates a small sphere of acoustic energy that can be aimed at different regions of the brain to excite its tissue.
The research appears in the journal Brain Stimulation.