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Brain scans may help identify awareness in some vegetative patients

Category: General Health

A team of European neuroscientists recently conducted a series of tests that suggest that patients thought to be in a vegetative state may be able to show some signs of consciousness.

Researchers from the Medical Research Council, the Wolfson Brain Imaging Center and the University of Liege used a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) test to scan the brains of 54 patients who were diagnosed as being in a vegetative state due to brain stem stroke, traumatic brain injury or meningitis, according to Health Day.

The brain scans of five patients showed that they could "willfully modulate their brain activity" when asked to think about hitting a tennis ball or walk around the neighborhood. Additional tests found that three of those five participants could follow commands, showing some level of awareness.

"Behavior is not always a good measure of consciousness," said lead study author Martin Monti, quoted by the news source. "fMRI seems to be one way of determining if a patient who is not responsive behaviorally is, in fact, conscious."

Researchers hope that at some point in the future brain scans may enable some level of communication with those in a vegetative state.

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