In 2016, a team from UCLA led by Martin Monti successfully jumpstarted the brain of a 25-year-old man who was recovering from a coma using ultrasound. At the time, Monti admitted that the team might have gotten a little lucky in their first experience but were encouraged by the outcome. Fast forward to today, and Monti and colleagues have reported that they have worked with three more patients that had severe brain injuries.
According to the scientists, the patients had been in what they call a minimally conscious state long-term. Two of the new patients have made impressive progress using the same ultrasound technique. Monti said that the new results were much more significant because the chronic patients were much less likely to recover spontaneously than the acute patient treated in 2016.
He says with new cases, it’s very unlikely that their findings are due to spontaneous recovery. The recently published paper talks about three people who received the treatment. The only one who didn’t benefit was a 58-year-old man who had been in a car accident five and a half years earlier and was minimally conscious. One of the other participants was a 56-year-old man who had suffered from a stroke resulting in a minimally conscious state, leaving him unable to communicate for more than 14 months.
After his first two treatments, the man was able for the first time to consistently respond to two distinct commands. He could drop and grasp a ball and look toward separate photographs of relatives when their names were mentioned. He was also able to shake his head to indicate yes or no when asked questions like was his name X and is your wife Y.
In the days after a second treatment, the man demonstrated for the first time since his stroke the ability to use a pen on paper, raise a bottle to his mouth, and communicate and answer questions. Monti says that those behaviors are diagnostic markers for the emergence from a disorder of consciousness. The other patient was a 50-year-old woman who had been in a less conscious state for more than two and half years after cardiac arrest. In days after her first treatment, she was able, according to her family, to recognize a pencil, a comb, and other objects. Both patients also understood speech.