"As they recover, we want to see if these areas become activated in the way we'd expect in a healthy person," Pape said.
Pape also tracks the state of their axons, the thick white fibers that comprise the brain's networks and allow different parts of the brain to communicate with each other. In a traumatic brain injury, the axons can become ripped and twisted like interstate highways in a Hollywood disaster movie.
"In a healthy brain, the networks function in a very organized manner, from front to back, for example," Pape said. "The injured brain has a disorganized direction we don't understand. The axons are sheared, torqued and twisted. We're trying to figure out how and if they work after a severe brain injury. Maybe they zigzag or connect with an unexpected neuron."
For the trial, subjects are divided into three groups: high dose, who hear 10 minutes of stories daily four times a day for six weeks; low dose, who hear five minutes of stories and 35 minutes of silence four times a day; and the "sham" group who wear the head phones but don't hear any stories. After six weeks, Pape measures how the subject's behavioral condition compares to changes she sees in the brain on new MRI images.
The trial is double blinded, meaning Pape will not know whether subjects were in the high, low or sham dose group until the study, which will enroll about 45 subjects, is completed in 2011. The earlier description of Karen Schroeder's voice being played for Ryan occurred after the initial double-blinded part of the study. After this part, all subjects receive the high dose of stories for six weeks to make sure that if there is a benefit, everyone has the same advantage.
Pape's imaging data of a subject's brain before and after the voice treatment will reveal if networks are better connected as a result of the therapy, and if that
|Contact: Marla Paul|