Scientists at UCLA are hopeful they've made a significant breakthrough that may help patients with severe brain injuries. A new case study has revealed that doctors “jump-started” the brain of a 25-year-old man in a coma by using ultrasound sonic stimulation in the brain. This shocking motivation targeted and successfully woke up the neurons in the thalamus — a part of the mind that serves as its 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, in a statement. "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. Our approach directly targets the thalamus but is noninvasive,"

Researchers used an ultrasound device to signal a small amount of acoustic energy directly at at the patient’s thalamus. The gadget emits only a limited amount of energy, even less than a conventional Doppler ultrasound. This technique is called low-intensity focused ultrasound pulsation, and it’s the first time the approach has been used to treat a severe brain injury.

While still comatose, the man showed only minimal signs of being conscious and of understanding speech. Three days after the procedure, the patient had regained full consciousness and complete language comprehension. He was able to communicate by shaking his head ‘yes’ and ‘no.’ (He even made a fist-bump gesture to say goodbye to one of his doctors.)

"It is possible that we were just very lucky and happened to have stimulated the patient just as he was spontaneously recovering," Monti said.

Moving forward, testing the procedure on additional patients will determine if it could or couldn’t be used consistently to help other people recovering from traumatic brain injuries.

Source: Monti M, Vespa P, Schnakers C, Korb A. UCLA Scientists Use Ultrasound To Jump-Start A Man’s Brain After Coma. Brain Simulation. 2016.

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