Doctors Talk To Vegetative Patient Through Brain Scans

Doctors have managed to use brain scans to communicate with a patient who has been in a vegetative state for more than a decade -- and he even told them he wasn't in pain.

The Canadian patient, Scott Routley, was asked questions while his brain was scanned using a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). The doctors we able to analyse his brain activity and discern how he responded to questions. Prof Adrian Owen, from the Brain and Mind Institute, University of Western Ontario, explained to the BBC:

"Scott has been able to show he has a conscious, thinking mind. We have scanned him several times and his pattern of brain activity shows he is clearly choosing to answer our questions. We believe he knows who and where he is."

In fact, during their communication with Scott, the researchers believe that he has confirmed that he is not in pain -- which marks the first time an uncommunicative, severely brain-injured patient has been able to provide clinically relevant information to their carers.

The finding, reported by the BBC, flies in the face of accepted wisdom that vegetative patients -- usually after coming out of a coma -- have no perception of themselves or the outside world. Since the brain scan experiments, all usual tests used to confirm vegetative states still prove positive for Scott, meaning his condition hasn't changed.

In fact, that suggests that current tests don't perhaps realistically reflect the conditions of patients believed to be in a vegetative state. But more importantly, it opens up the possibility of better tests in the future -- and unprecedented abilities to help patients that have until now seemed unreachable. [BBC]

Image: Wikimedia

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    I don't know whether to find this amazing or truly terrifying.

      It's definitely both.

      Exact same thoughts as I had.

      Imagine the torture of being concious yet everyone thinks youre not....

      Has anybody ever been in a true "vegetative state".

    Whoa. That is awesome! Sign me up if I turn into a vegetable.

    Pretty good look at the research behind this is available here:

    Seriously fascinating research.

    I really hope if I'm ever in a vegetative state someone pulls the bloody plug long before 10 years. What absolute hell it would be.

    This whole "keep someone alive no matter what" mentality society has right now is disgusting.

      If it is true the brain can still function, learn and evolve. I'd want to stay alive with access to information to keep my brain busy. Hopefully one day someone could reconnect the wiring - That's what the research was all about, to see if it's even worth working out where the wiring is damaged, then if it's worth fixing.

    Reading a few books about the plasticity of our brains this does not surprise me and it makes sense that your brain would move as many functions to the still working parts of our brains, if able to do so.

    I'm sure there have been people in a vegetative state, definitely. What we want to know are some of the patients with acquired brain injury being assessed as brain dead and vegetative incorrectly. Quite probably.

      I believe we can hack the brain, and I believe that before my time is up I'll see them do some wonderful things to the brain. I just hope I can get my brain image ripped to a computer before I die. I'd love to exist in a virtual world.

    wow-that is a big step,yes.But that guy must be in hell,if you are able to think but you cannot move or say anything,is he just there laying for ten years,thinking??? being a prisoner on your own body,that would be hell on earth for me. It is a break through tho,they can probably look at brain damage in a whole new way now. I think it is time for Scott Routley to rest.

      Fernanda - He'd be alright if his brain was generating enough happy checmicals, like serotonin to make life easier in that state. Perhaps our brain does do something magical for us if we're in that state. He could be living in a fantastic world for all we know... Wouldn't it suck if someone decided to end that for him, just because they didn't have faith in the human brain... If I was in this guys situation and my brain didn't kick into a permanent high, I'd study my own brain as much as possible, as it's your only toy. I guess if you spent enough time on it, you can make your brain do some crazy stuff, perhaps if trained hard enough, you could run a Tetris clone in your mind, feed your imagination directly into your senses. lol... A bit far out but deadly possible :)

        Read about locked in Syndrome. It will change your views. Your brain doesn't release feel good chemicals just because it can. The chemicals you are talking about are usually released when a patient has had a traumatic injury and is about to die. I imagine that if you don't die, the brain will stop producing said chemicals.

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