Until now, the only way to stimulate brain activity in patients recovering from a coma was a risky, invasive surgical procedure called deep brain stimulation which places electrodes inside the thalamus, the brain’s central processor. A 25 year old man in California is making amazing progress following a sonic stimulation, kick-starting the brain using noninvasive ultrasound.
This is the first time this new approach has been used to treat severe brain injury. The technique is called low-intensity focused ultrasound pulsation. It was pioneered by a UCLA professor of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences. He is also founder of the Sherman Oaks company Brainsonix which provided the device used in this study.
The device is the size of a coffee cup saucer. This creates a small sphere of energy that can be aimed at different areas of the brain to stimulate tissue. In this study, the device was placed on the side of the man’s head and activated 10 times for 30 seconds each over 10 minutes. The device emits only a small amount of energy, less than traditional Doppler ultrasound.
The day after treatment, the man’s responses were greatly improved. Three days later, he had regained full consciousness and language comprehension. He could communicate “yes” and “no” by shaking his head, throwing in a fist-bump to one of his doctors.
Researchers plan to test the procedure on more patients at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center starting later this fall. If the positive results continue, it could be used consistently for post-coma therapy. A portable device could eventually be built, perhaps in a helmet. This could be a low-cost way to enable and speed up patient recovery after brain injuries, possibly even those in vegetative or minimally-conscious state.
Wolpert, Stuart. “UCLA scientists use ultrasound to jump-start a man’s brain after coma.” Health + Behavior. UCLA Newsroom, 24 Aug 2016. Web. 28 Aug 2016.