Doctors Able to Stimulate Brain Damaged Man’s Speech, Movement

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Oct 16, 2006   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Doctors Able to Stimulate Brain Damaged Man’s Speech, Movement Email this article
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by Steven Ertelt Editor
October 16
, 2006

Atlanta, GA ( — Using pulses of electric current, a team of doctors reportedly restored some of a brain-damaged man’s speech and movement. The process gives hope to incapacitated patients like Terri Schiavo that more research in this area could lead to the ability to bring people out of comas or improve their conditions.

The team of neuroscientists was able to treat a 38 year-old assault victim who had barely been conscious for a period of six years. Using the treatment, he was gradually able to use his left arm and was able to utter coherent words for the first time since the injury.

Before their efforts, could respond to questions on occasion by moving his thumb or nodding, but was essentially mute and unable to move.

Doctors implanted two wire electrodes deep into the man’s brain, according to a New York Times report, in a process that is called deep brain stimulation. It has frequently been used to treat people suffering from Parkinson’s disease.

The doctors involved are slated to present the case to the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience in Atlanta. They said it may provide hope to patients like this man but the surgery also presents ethical questions about operating on patients who can’t give their consent.

Terri Schiavo received the treatment as well but some experts say she received it too soon after her collapse for it to have made much of a difference.

"I think this case suggests that this surgery probably will be one of the choices of treatment we can give to certain patients who have some chance of recovery," Dr. James L. Bernat, a professor of neurology at Dartmouth Medical School, told the Times about the case.

He indicated the treatment would mostly be beneficial for patients who already have some responsiveness.

The research team in the case works at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell, the JFK Johnson Rehabilitation Institute in Edison, N.J., and the Cleveland Clinic Foundation.