British Researchers See Normal Brain Activity in Another "PVS" Patient

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Aug 14, 2007   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

British Researchers See Normal Brain Activity in Another "PVS" Patient Email this article
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by Steven Ertelt Editor
August 14,

London, England ( — British researchers say that scans of the brain activity of a disabled woman there show normal levels despite a diagnosis from doctors that she is supposedly in a persistent vegetative state. This is the second time the researchers have found normal brain activity in a PVS patient.

Adrian Owen and other scientists at Cambridge University reported on Monday about the findings of their new study, which shows that researchers may be able to predict which comatose patients can recover.

Owen and his team used functional magnetic resonance imaging to look at the activity in the patient’s brain and asked the female patient to imagine she was walking through her home. After the request, her brain lit up with activity in the parts of the brain expected to function.

The Archives of Neurology journal article said the patient’s brain showed about the same activity as healthy people.

Owen and his colleagues scanned the brains of 10 other patients and got another positive response from a man in his 30s who had been severely beaten.

"We put him in the scanner and we had exactly the same responses," Owen told Reuters.

He told the news service that observers shouldn’t make too much of the study — whether it would have shown if Terri Schiavo or other disabled patients exhibited brain activity or could have recovered.

"We don’t want to raise false hopes or make people think all minimally conscious patients are aware," he said.

Still he said that people who are more likely to recover, according to their research, are patients like Terri who suffered from a lack of oxygen to the brain.

This is the second time the researchers showed significant brain activity in a PVS patient.

Last fall, they said a 23 year-old British woman in a so-called "vegetative state" after she was hurt in an automobile accident a year ago showed normal brain levels. Although the unnamed woman can’t move or speak, she has responded to sentences spoken to her and even played an imaginary game of tennis in her head.

Owen reported on Monday that the woman is showing improvement and possibly confirming that the brain levels recorded earlier were a precursor to her recovery.

"About six months after we scanned her, she started to show the earliest signs of improvement," he told Reuters. "She is now in a minimally conscious state. She is able to produce responses occasionally but not consistently."