Doctors communicate with man assumed to be in vegetative state using fMRI

November 14, 2012 by Bob Yirka weblog
Credit: National Institute of Mental Health

(Medical Xpress)—Doctors in Canada claim they have opened a communication channel, using fMRI, with a man assumed to be in a vegetative state for over twelve years. By asking the patient to envision two different types of mental exercises and assigning a value of yes or no respectively to each, while undergoing a brain scan, they believe car accident patient Scott Routley has informed them that he is not experiencing any pain.

Routley was severely injured in a car accident in 2000. Subsequent tests indicated that his brain was in a vegetative state, which is described as one where the patient is incapable of displaying any signs of consciousness and shows no signs of responsiveness to . The brain of such a patient is not considered to be dead however, as EEGs continue to show activity.

To try to communicate with Routley, doctors asked him to try to visualize himself playing tennis and recorded the way his brain responded using fMRI. They then asked him next to try to visualize himself walking around in his house and recorded the way his brain responded to that exercise as well. Then, they asked Routley to use the visualizations as a means of responding to questions – to visualize the tennis match as a means of answering yes to a question, for example. The doctors note that different are used to conjure up the two different types of thought processes making them easy to tell apart on fMIR scans. In interviews with the BBC, which is making a documentary about using fMRI to communicate with those thought to be in a , team lead Prof Adrian Owen, said tests were run multiple times using the same question and answer process and he reports that the results indicate that Routley was definitely communicating with him and his team.

Not everyone agrees with the results of course as reading results is still part art as well as science. Also, such research raises the possibility that science will discover that some people have been left to lie immobile for years under the assumption that they are unaware of the reality of their situation – a situation that would have to be addressed if it's determined that they are and have been, capable of conscious thought.

Explore further: How the brain processes humour helps us understand emotions felt by vegetative state patients

More information: via BBC

Related Stories

A combined method for detecting consciousness

January 9, 2012

The combination of transcranial magnetic stimulation and electroencephalography constitutes a new method allowing the traces of conscious activity to be revealed in brain injured patients.

Recommended for you

New insights on how cocaine changes the brain

November 25, 2015

The burst of energy and hyperactivity that comes with a cocaine high is a rather accurate reflection of what's going on in the brain of its users, finds a study published November 25 in Cell Reports. Through experiments conducted ...

Can physical exercise enhance long-term memory?

November 25, 2015

Exercise can enhance the development of new brain cells in the adult brain, a process called adult neurogenesis. These newborn brain cells play an important role in learning and memory. A new study has determined that mice ...

Umbilical cells help eye's neurons connect

November 24, 2015

Cells isolated from human umbilical cord tissue have been shown to produce molecules that help retinal neurons from the eyes of rats grow, connect and survive, according to Duke University researchers working with Janssen ...

Brain connections predict how well you can pay attention

November 24, 2015

During a 1959 television appearance, Jack Kerouac was asked how long it took him to write his novel On The Road. His response – three weeks – amazed the interviewer and ignited an enduring myth that the book was composed ...

No cable spaghetti in the brain

November 24, 2015

Our brain is a mysterious machine. Billions of nerve cells are connected such that they store information as efficiently as books are stored in a well-organized library. To this date, many details remain unclear, for instance ...


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Nov 14, 2012
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
4.6 / 5 (5) Nov 14, 2012
Wow! Really incredible. This will cause people to rethink their relationships and attitudes towards loved ones who are in such a state.

Yes. They will probably ask to die.
1 / 5 (3) Nov 14, 2012
Organ vampires would want this research to go away.
not rated yet Nov 15, 2012
Yeah, remind me to update my advance directive to account for this... I'd love to see a long list of questions asked, his responses, and a repeat of this on others.
1 / 5 (1) Nov 19, 2012
Any research attempts under these circumstances for communication is commendable.
Motivations behind a 'documentary' of such attempts must be questioned.
not rated yet Nov 19, 2012
This story is several years old.
1 / 5 (1) Nov 19, 2012
Then a 'documentary' is premature unless the research has reach a stage in time for effective universal application and recognition.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.