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Deep Brain Stimulation August 3, 2007

Posted by Mrs Weird Scientist in Human Body, Technology, Think About It.

Six years ago, a man was badly beaten, leaving him minimally conscious and with a severe brain injury. Only able to make slight eye or finger movements, his life appeared to be permanently changed. Today – after receiving deep brain stimulation, he is able to chew food, swallow and use words. The results of his treatment have been published in the journal Nature.

How It Works

Dr. Ali Rezai, a neurosurgeon at Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Neurological Restoration, carried out the procedure. Deep brain stimulation isn’t a new treatment – it’s already used for Parkinson’s disease, where it works to reduce the tremors that sufferers experience. During the procedure, a patient has electrodes implanted into specific areas of the brain.

Deep Brain Stimulation

Credit: Cleveland Clinic. The X-ray image shows the man’s brain as it undergoes electrical stimulation. The sight of implanted electrodes could leave a person cringing, but the results show major potential for treating brain injuries.

Electrical Pulses

Over a six month period, researchers used electrical stimulation and alternated this with fake stimulation to properly assess if it was working on the man. Within just 48 hours of the first stimulation, the man could keep his eyes open, turn his head and speak words. After several treatments, the man can now complete more complex tasks such as brushing his hair. What about eating? Well, prior to the treatment, he received a feeding tube. Now, he can chew and swallow his food.

So What’s Next?

Twelve more patients will soon undergo the same electrical stimulation to see if they respond in similar ways. If so, the entire standard of care for minimally conscious brain injured patients could dramatically change. Most of these patients end up in long-term care facilities because their mobility and functioning is virtually non-existent. If electrical stimulation proves successful in more patients, it can mean the difference between constant care and a certain amount of independence.

More Research Is Needed

More research is still needed to help identify which patients will benefit from deep brain stimulation. The causes and levels of brain injuries vary, which means the response can vary a lot from one patient to another. Research is also important to help gauge the long-term effects of the treatment. For now, the results can offer brain injury sufferers and their families something that tends to be in short supply. Hope.

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