Vegetative state patients can respond to questions

Scientists have been able to reach into the mind of a brain-damaged man and communicate with his thoughts.  The research, carried out at in the UK and in Belgium, involved a new brain scanning method.  Awareness was detected in three other patients previously diagnosed as being in a vegetative state.  The study in the New England Journal of Medicine shows that scans can detect signs of awareness in patients thought to be closed off from the world.  Patients in a vegetative state are awake, not in a coma, but have no awareness because of severe brain damage.

The scientists used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) which shows brain activity in real time.  They asked patients and healthy volunteers to imagine playing tennis while they were being scanned.  In each of the volunteers this stimulated activity in the pre-motor cortex, part of the brain which deals with movement.  This also happened in four out of 23 of the patients presumed to be in a vegetative state.

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