Dr Srivas Chennu at the University of Cambridge, said: "Not only did we find the patient had the ability to pay attention, we also found independent evidence of their ability to follow commands information which could enable the development of future technology to help patients in a vegetative state communicate with the outside world.
"In order to try and assess the true level of brain function and awareness that survives in the vegetative and minimally conscious states, we are progressively building up a fuller picture of the sensory, perceptual and cognitive abilities in patients. This study has added a key piece to that puzzle, and provided a tremendous amount of insight into the ability of these patients to pay attention."
Dr Tristan Bekinschtein at the MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit said: "Our attention can be drawn to something by its strangeness or novelty, or we can consciously decide to pay attention to it. A lot of cognitive neuroscience research tells us that we have distinct patterns in the brain for both forms of attention, which we can measure even when the individual is unable to speak. These findings mean that, in certain cases of individuals who are vegetative, we might be able to enhance this ability and improve their level of communication with the outside world."
This study builds on a joint programme of research at the University of Cambridge and MRC CBSU where a team of researchers have been developing a series of diagnostic and prognostic tools based on brain imaging techniques since 1998. Famously, in 2006 the group was able to use fMRI imaging techniques to establish that a patient in a vegetative state could respond to yes or no questions by indicating different, distinct patterns of brain activity.
|Contact: Genevieve Maul|
University of Cambridge