Despite being unable to move, some patients in a vegetative state retain awareness, according to a recent study by researchers of University of Birmingham. The researchers hope that their study will pave the way for the development of restorative therapies for thousands of patients.
New insight into a vital cerebral pathway has explained how some patients in a vegetative state are aware despite appearing to be unconscious and being behaviorally unresponsive. The study findings identify structural damage between the thalamus and primary motor cortex as the obstacle between covert awareness and intentional movement.
Researcher Davinia Fernandez-Espejo said, "Number of patients who appear to be in a vegetative state are actually aware of themselves and their surroundings, able to comprehend the world around them, create memories and imagine events as with any other person. Before we take the crucial step of developing targeted therapies to help these patients, we needed to identify the reason for the dissociation between their retained awareness and their inability to respond with intentional movement. The ultimate aim is to use this information in targeted therapies that can drastically improve the quality of life of patients."
Though it may be a number of years before an effective therapy is developed, the research team believes that a significant milestone has been reached with the discovery.