In a recent article in Nature, researchers report that deep brain stimulation techniques quite dramatically enhanced the brain function and behavior of a patient who had suffered traumatic brain injury and considered minimally-conscious for 6 years.
From the accompanying AP article:
For six years, the man could not speak or feed himself. On occasion he showed signs of awareness, and he moved his eyes or a thumb to communicate. His arms were useless. He was fed through a tube.
But researchers chose him for an experimental attempt to rev up his brain by placing electrodes in it. And here's how his mother describes the change in her son, now 38:
"My son can now eat, speak, watch a movie without falling asleep," she said Wednesday while choking back tears during a telephone news conference. "He can drink from a cup. He can express pain. He can cry and he can laugh."
Should certainly revitalize the debates on the definition of brain death and the clinical ethics therein.
[Editor's note, added August 16, 2007 : An article from Reuters August 13, 2007 also sheds some interesting new light on the subject: Scans have shown near-normal brain activity in a second patient who is in a vegetative state -- British researchers reported on Monday in a study that may show a way to predict who is likely to recover from the usually hopeless condition. Access the full text here.]