Researchers at the Pompeu Fabra University (UPF) have discovered how to detect which areas of the brain are inactive in patients in coma. The researchers believe their discovery could lead to a possible treatment to recover consciousness.
The study, published at Science Advance, was led by the Director of the Cognition and Brain Center of the UPF Department of Information Technology and Communications, Gustavo Deco.
The researcher explained that “a conscious person uses all areas of the brain in a more or less homogeneous way, whereas comatose people have certain less active sectors“.
According to the researchers, once the brain areas affected in people in coma are detected, they can deduce the probability of what areas or networks of the brain will be activated or not.
Thus, the research opens the door to a new classification of coma states different from the current one, which is based on the external symptoms that patients present. Their finding could allow diagnosing patients’ level of unconsciousness according to a quantitative criterion, depending on the areas of brain they have in operation.
The professor has pointed out that, although it is not part of the study itself, this discovery could help to conceive a treatment for people in vegetative states.
“If we know which brain networks are disabled, we can use external stimuli to activate them, such as introducing electrodes in these very precise areas,” Deco said.
These electrodes, which are known as ‘deep brain stimulation’ (DBS), have not yet been used in patients who are in an unconscious state, but in others who suffer from brain-related diseases, such as Parkinson’s.
Deco, which has had the collaboration of international researchers, studied 169 patients divided into four groups according to the level of depth of coma: people in a deeper comatose category, known as vegetative state, those with minimal consciousness, patients recovered from coma and those with full consciousness, who were the control group.
All of them underwent functional magnetic resonance imaging until they discovered which neuronal areas were active and which functioned, even minimally.
Source: Agencia ID