Friday, September 08, 2006

'Vegetative' Woman's Brain Not So Vegetative

Wow, this is pretty stunning: Researchers have just done brain scans on a woman who's in a vegetative state and found that her brain responds to certain verbal cues like a healthy person's brain would. From the Washington Post:
"According to all the tests, the young woman was deep in a 'vegetative state' -- completely unresponsive and unaware of her surroundings. But then a team of scientists decided to do an unprecedented experiment, employing sophisticated technology to try to peer behind the veil of her brain injury for any signs of conscious awareness.

"Without any hint that she might have a sense of what was happening, the researchers put the woman in a scanner that detects brain activity and told her that in a few minutes they would say the word "tennis," signaling her to imagine she was serving, volleying and chasing down balls. When they did, the neurologists were shocked to see her brain "light up" exactly as an uninjured person's would. It happened again and again. And the doctors got the same result when they repeatedly cued her to picture herself wandering, room to room, through her own home.

'I was absolutely stunned,' said Adrian M. Owen, a British neurologist who led the team reporting the case in today's issue of the journal Science. 'We had no idea whether she would understand our instructions. But this showed that she is aware.'
This is amazing stuff -- no question this is going to take us back to Terry Schiavo (sigh) and launch the whole how-do-you-define-brain-death debate into a whole new realm.

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2 Comments:

Blogger K-Oh said...

That's an amazing story. I'm not sure if it comforts me or discomforts me-- both, I guess. Thanks for posting it.

7:50 PM  
Blogger Rebecca Skloot said...

Hi Kristin! I totally agree.

2:11 PM  

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