Read More: New Scientist
People in a minimally conscious state have been “woken” for a whole week after a brief period of brain stimulation. The breakthrough suggests we may be on the verge of creating a device that can be used at home to help people with disorders of consciousness communicate with friends and family. People with severe brain trauma can fall into a coma. If they begin to show signs of arousal but not awareness, they are said to be in a vegetative state. If they then show fluctuating signs of awareness but cannot communicate, they are described as being minimally consciousness. In 2014, Steven Laureys at the University of Liège in Belgium and his colleagues discovered that 13 people with minimal consciousness and two people in a vegetative state could temporarily show new signs of awareness when given mild electrical stimulation. The people in the trial received transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS), which uses low-level electrical stimulation to make neurons more or less likely to fire. This was applied once over an area of the brain called the prefrontal cortex, which is involved in “higher” cognitive functions such as consciousness. Soon after, they showed signs of consciousness, including moving their hands or following instructions using their eyes. Two people were even able to answer questions for 2 hours by moving their body, before drifting back into their previous state.