BUENOS AIRES – An international team of researchers have found that brains of patients in vegetative and minimally conscious state still appears to have the ability to learn.
The team hopes that the finding will lead to a simple test that will enable practitioners to assess the patient’s consciousness without the need of imaging.
During the study, the researchers from University of Buenos Aires, Argentina, the University of Cambridge, UK and the Institute of Cognitive Neurology, Argentina used the classical Pavlonian conditioning to test the responsiveness of patients in vegetative state.
The researchers played a tone immediately prior to blowing air into a patient’s eye.
After some time training, they found that the patients would start blinking when the tone played but before the air puff to the eye.
However, this was not seen in the control subjects, volunteers who had been under anaesthesia.This test will hopefully become a useful, simple tool to test for consciousness without the need for imaging or instructions,” Nature magazine quoted lead author Dr Tristan Bekinschtein, from the University of Cambridge’s Wolfson Brain Imaging Unit, as saying.
“Additionally, this research suggests that if the patient shows learning, then they are likely to recover to some degree,” Bekinschtein added.
The findings appear in the online edition of Nature Neuroscience.