In Los Angeles a few weeks ago, a team at the University of California jump-started a patient’s brain by ultrasound as he recovered from a coma.

 

In the beginning, the patient showed only minimal signs of consciousness and understanding speech. But after receiving the low-intensity focused ultrasound pulsation, he had fully restored consciousness and language comprehension within three days of the procedure.

 

His responses improved measurable a day after the treatment, and within the next three days, he could reliably communicate by nodding or shaking his head. He was also able to fist-bump his doctor to say goodbye. These great feats were led by Martin Monti, Ph.D., who is an associate professor of psychology and neurosurgery.  The study was published online July 22 in Brain Stimulation.

 

The low-intensity focused ultrasound pulsation technique excites neurons in the thalamus, which is the brain’s central hub for processing information, and was developed by focused ultrasound technology developer BrainSonix. BrainSonix was founded by study co-author Dr. Alexander Bystritsky, who is also a professor of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences at UCLA’s Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior.

 

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The focused ultrasound device is about the size of a coffee cup saucer and creates a sphere of acoustic energy that can be targeted at different brain regions to excite tissue. In the researchers’ study, they placed the device on the side of the man’s head and activated it 10 times for 30 seconds each over a 10-minute period.

 

The reason the researchers focused on the thalamus is because the thalamus performance in people with impaired mental function after a coma is typically diminished. Previously, the only way to excite neurons in the thalamus was via deep brain stimulation, a risky surgical procedure that involves implanting electrodes directly inside the thalamus.

 

The testing will continue on a number of people this fall at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center conducted by the UCLA group. Testing will be performed in partnership with the UCLA Brain Injury Research Center and funded in part by the Dana Foundation and the Tiny Blue Dot Foundation.

 

If it is found that the technology helps other patients recover from a coma, the researchers envision that it could eventually be used to build an inexpensive portable device and possibly be incorporated into a helmet. It might even offer – for the first time – a treatment for patients in a vegetative or minimally conscious state.

 

Resource: Brain Stimulation

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