A nerve implant has assisted a man in a permanent vegetative state (PVS) to make contact with the outside world once more.
The 35-year-old man, who was believed to be completely unresponsive, was involved in a road traffic accident in 2001 and has since been under constant care.
An implant was installed to replicate the vagus nerve, which is what connects the heart, lungs and digestive tract to the brain.
The man has since been able to turn his head, as well as follow objects around the room with his eyes. He does, however, remain unable to speak, walk or care for himself.
The discovery has been a breakthrough as, up until this point, it was believed that patients who remain in a state of PVS for over one year are often considered to be without hope of improvement.
It also raises many ethical debates surrounding euthanasia and PVS.
It was New Scientist who featured an article on the team who ‘woke’ the man from his 15 year coma. Included in the report was an interview with team leader Angela Sirigu of the French National Centre for Scientific Research in Bron.
“When the team played some of his favourite music by French singer Jean-Jacques Goldman, the man had tears in his eyes. Sirigu says vagus nerve stimulation activates the neuroendocrinal system, which can explain the tears. But it happened at the same time as he listened to his preferred music, says Sirigu. “What can we say? We can conclude that there was an emotional reaction.”
Sirigu also believes that she startled her patient when she suddenly brought her face close to his. “His eyes were wide open,” she says, suggesting that he was aware of a threat to his personal space.”
The Independent added more thoughts from Sirigu:
“This patient is like our baby. We are very attached to him. He’ll always remain in our hearts, because he’s our first patient,” she said. The results show “it is possible to improve a patient’s presence in the world,” she added in a statement.”