Scientists at the University of Cambridge, led by an Indian researcher, have found ‘hidden signatures’ in the brains of people in a vegetative state. The discovery points to networks that could support consciousness even when a patient appeared to be unconscious and unresponsive.
The findings of the research were published on Thursday in PLOS Computational Biology. Researchers showed that the networks that support awareness in a healthy brain are not always impaired in patients in a vegetative state. Some vegetative patients had well-preserved brain networks — these patients were those who had shown signs of hidden awareness by following commands such as imagining playing tennis.
“Currently, the accepted techniques for assessing consciousness and cognitive function in vegetative patients rely mostly on observation of externally observable behaviours, using standardised scales. The broader aim of this research is to demonstrate scientific techniques that can contribute to the development of a clinically validated suite of neuroimaging-based tools that can be used for accurate bedside clinical assessment,” Dr Srivas Chennu told HT.
“Understanding how consciousness arises from the interactions between networks of brain regions is an elusive but fascinating scientific question. But for patients diagnosed as vegetative and minimally conscious, and their families, this is far more than just an academic question — it takes on a very real significance,” he added.