The possibility of a patient’s recovering from a coma may be predicted by brain scans, according to a new study.
Doctors used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) – a functional neuroimaging procedure that measures brain activity – to observe a brain region known as the posterior cingulate cortex (PCC) which may be linked to consciousness.
Head trauma or cardiac arrest lead to severe disruptions in the posterior cingulate cortex, which could predict the chance of a patient to recover from a coma, the doctors said.
In the study – published November 11 in the journal Neurology – doctors looked at brain scans of 14 healthy people and 27 people in a coma. When they compared the scans they found that all the coma patients had disruptions in the connections within and to the posterior cingulate cortex.
However, four of the comatose people – who still had brain activity between the posterior cingulate cortex and the medial prefrontal cortex – regained consciousness. The brain activity between the two regions was the same among both healthy people and those who recovered from the coma, the doctors found.
Dr. Stein Silva, of the Institut national de la santé et de la recherche médicale (INSERM) U825 in France and lead author of the study said that functional magnetic resonance imaging scans of the posterior cingulate cortex may show which patient is more likely to recover from a coma.
There is a lack of research on brain function right after injury, Silva said. These types of researchers are very much needed, because they could teach doctors how to treat coma patients before neutral connections between the brain regions are lost for good.
Accroding to Dr. Silva, the statistical results of the current study are quite weak since the study was performed on a small number of patients. It is possible that the functional magnetic resonance imaging scan results could also change depending on how much time has passed from the occurrence of the injury.
If the study proves to have similar results even when performed on a larger number of people, doctors may eventually develop individualised treatments for patients with brain injuries, Dr. Silva added.
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