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Scientists Call For New Research Into "Disorders Of Consciousness"
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
March 12, 2007

NEW YORK, NEW YORK--Researchers at New York-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center are calling for nationwide research into "disorders of consciousness", including how and where patients with severe brain injuries are currently being treated.

In a commentary published in the January 23 edition of the journal Neurology, Joseph J. Fins, MD, Nicholas D. Schiff, MD and Kathleen M. Foley, MD said much more needs to be learned about the diagnoses of "persistent vegetative state" and "minimally conscious state", particularly in light of the Terri Schiavo controversy and recent research showing that some patients regain brain function, years or even decades after their initial trauma.

The research team convened a meeting of the Institute of Medicine, in which participants described a lack of basic research into these conditions, the "frequent warehousing of patients following a diagnosis of persistent vegetative state that limits their access to appropriate neurological and diagnostic tests, and the breadth of public confusion about disorders of consciousness".

They also called for formal use of new technologies to more accurately diagnose patients with brain trauma.

"It is inaccurate to think that all disorders of consciousness are immutable and fixed," said Dr. Fins, noting that 16 percent of patients diagnosed within six month as being in a vegetative state recover consciousness within a year, and about one-fourth of those recover independent function.

Two years ago, the same researchers used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to look at the brain activity of two men considered to be in "minimally conscious state" as a result of brain injuries, along with seven volunteers who had no brain injuries. They found that, while the resting brain activity for the two men was almost non-existent, when researchers played audiotapes of loved ones telling familiar stories and talking about shared experiences from the past, the brain activity of the two men jumped up to the same levels as those of the subjects that had no brain injuries.

"This study gave me goose bumps, because it shows this possibility of this profound isolation, that these people are there, that they've been there all along, even though we've been treating them as if they're not," Dr. Fins told the New York Times in February 2005.

"Abstract -- Late recovery from the minimally conscious state" (Neurology)
"Experts Urge More Research, Awareness of 'Minimally Conscious State'" (Health News Digest)
"Brain Scans Show Increased Activity During Story-Telling In Patients With Severe Brain Injuries" February 9, 2005 (Inclusion Daily Express)
"Terri Schiavo's Right To Live" (Inclusion Daily Express Archives)

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