Scientists at the University of California, Los Angeles, are reporting on the "remarkable" recovery of a 25-year-old man in a coma following a simple and brief exposure to low-energy ultrasound targeting the thalamus, the part of the human brain that is typically impaired after a coma.
They are keeping their excitement in check, however, given this is only a case study and it is possible that "we were just very lucky and happened to have stimulated the patient just as he was spontaneously recovering." But they do think it's quite possible they helped "jumpstart" the man's brain by exciting the neurons in the most affected brain region.
Reporting in the journal Brain Stimulation, the researchers, including Alexander Bystritsky, who pioneered the technique called low-intensity focused ultrasound pulsation, say the man went from the most minimal signs of being conscious to, three days later, regaining full consciousness and language comprehension, as well as limited communication skills such as nodding his head and doing a fist bump.
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They plan to study the procedure on several more people in the fall. "Targeting the thalamus to stimulate a patient with a disorder of consciousness has been successful in the past," an outside researcher tells the Observer, "and this new technology has the benefit of being non-invasive, unlike the deep brain stimulation which requires neurosurgery.” (This mom awoke from a coma to learn she has a baby.)
This article originally appeared on Newser: Scientists Wake Comatose Patient Using Only Ultrasound