California medical researchers are cautiously optimistic about a new ultrasound procedure that could help people suffering from brain injuries.
Science Daily reports researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles successfully used a new ultrasound treatment to jump-start a 25-year-old coma victim’s brain. They said the young man has made “remarkable progress” with the treatment.
In a report published in the journal “Brain Stimulation,” the UCLA team said the treatment may be successful in treating severe brain injury. To treat the young man, they used a small device that creates low-intensity focused ultrasound pulsations to target and stimulate specific parts of the brain, according to the report. They placed the device next to his head for 30-second bursts over a 10-minute period, the report explained.
Science Daily has more about the experimental treatment:
The technique uses sonic stimulation to excite the neurons in the thalamus, an egg-shaped structure that serves as the brain’s central hub for processing information.
“It’s almost as if we were jump-starting the neurons back into function,” said Martin Monti, the study’s lead author and a UCLA associate professor of psychology and neurosurgery. “Until now, the only way to achieve this was a risky surgical procedure known as deep brain stimulation, in which electrodes are implanted directly inside the thalamus,” he said. “Our approach directly targets the thalamus but is noninvasive.”
Monti said the researchers expected the positive result, but he cautioned that the procedure requires further study on additional patients before they determine whether it could be used consistently to help other people recovering from comas.
“It is possible that we were just very lucky and happened to have stimulated the patient just as he was spontaneously recovering,” Monti said.
The UCLA team was amazed at how the treatment seemed to work. They said the young coma victim showed only minimal signs of consciousness before the treatment. After one day of treatment, however, they said they noticed a significant improvement. After three days, the research team said the young man regained full consciousness, nodded his head and made a fist-bump gesture to one of his doctors.
Research into the experimental treatment continues.
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In April, author and bioethics attorney Wesley J. Smith reported that trials also are under way to try to reverse brain death. However, Smith noted that, if successful, the treatment will more likely treat profound brain injury, rather than “reverse death.”
These experimental treatments could be a ray of hope for victims of severe brain injuries, especially when families of the victims are encouraged to pull the plug and let them die.