Patient Regains Responsiveness Through Nerve Stimulation

Category: Health


Unlocking Word Meanings

Read the following words/expressions found in today’s article.

  1. vegetative / ˈvɛdʒ ɪˌteɪ tɪv / (adj) – unable to perform physical activity despite being alive

    The man started showing signs of consciousness after being in a vegetative state for six months.

  2. desensitize / diˈsɛn sɪˌtaɪz / (v) – to reduce sensitivity

    The patient was desensitized to pain after taking the medicine.

  3. immobilized / ɪˈmoʊ bəˌlaɪzd / (adj) – unable to move one’s body

    His body became immobilized after the car accident.

  4. debilitated / dɪˈbɪl ɪˌteɪ tɪd / (adj) – showing a weakened condition

    The debilitated patient is undergoing therapy to regain his muscle strength.

  5. seizure / ˈsi ʒər / (n) – a sudden attack resulting from uncontrolled electrical brain activity

    The woman was shaking uncontrollably during a seizure.


Read the text below.

Nerve stimulation can revive unresponsive patients, a new study has found.

Researchers from the Institute for Cognitive Sciences-Marc Jeannerod in France tested out a procedure that can restore consciousness of patients who are in a persistent vegetative state (PVS). PVS is a condition that desensitizes patients and hinders them from responding to stimuli.

The researchers performed the vagus nerve stimulation (VNS) procedure on a 35-year-old PVS patient by inserting a stimulator in his chest. The procedure targets the vagus nerve, which links the brain to other organs and triggers response to stimuli.

Lead researcher Angela Sirigu disclosed that the patient has become more responsive after undergoing the procedure for a month, although he remained speech-impaired and immobilized. He began showing signs of minimal consciousness, such as following an object’s movement with his eyes and staying awake when someone is conversing with him.

The findings received favorable responses from medical practitioners as it disproved the common perception that patients in PVS for over a year can no longer recover. These practitioners are also hopeful that the procedure can be administered to patients with less severe brain damage. On the other hand, some criticized the procedure because reviving consciousness would enable patients to become aware of their debilitated state.

On another note, VNS is widely used to treat certain neurological disorders, such as epilepsy. The procedure reduces the number of seizures experienced by an epilepsy patient. In addition, VNS is administered to patients suffering from depression as the vagus nerve is linked to certain brain areas that control one’s moods.

Viewpoint Discussion

Enjoy a discussion with your tutor.

Discussion A

• Do you think more research about VNS should be conducted? Why or why not?
• Why is it important to help PVS patients regain their responsiveness and consciousness?

Discussion B

• What are the risks of performing a medical procedure for the first time?
• How can medical practitioners minimize these risks?