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"Vegetative State" Patients Can Communicate

samzenpus posted more than 4 years ago | from the hello-in-there dept.

Biotech 347

Kittenman writes "The BBC is carrying a story about researchers in the UK and Belgium who can detect the thinking processes within a patient previously thought to be in a vegetative state. The researchers ask the patient verbally to think in certain ways to indicate a 'yes', in other ways to indicate a 'no' — and have successfully communicated with 4 out of 23 patients previously thought to be in a coma."

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Horrible news (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31023116)

As a life-long vegetarian, I'm horrified with the idea of being able to communicate with my... oh wait.

It's not that big of a deal... (4, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31023118)

Us vegetative types have been doing that for years on World of Warcraft.

Re:It's not that big of a deal... (2, Funny)

cayenne8 (626475) | more than 4 years ago | (#31023528)

"Us vegetative types have been doing that for years on World of Warcraft."

Hell, I was thinking more along terms of my current management.

So do plants... (1)

viraltus (1102365) | more than 4 years ago | (#31023122)

I always talk to them :)

Summary wrong: Not a coma! (5, Informative)

Tim C (15259) | more than 4 years ago | (#31023130)

From TFA:

"Patients in a vegetative state are awake, not in a coma, but have no awareness because of severe brain damage. "

Re:Summary wrong: Not a coma! (-1, Troll)

operagost (62405) | more than 4 years ago | (#31023238)

A little late for Terri Schiavo.

Re:Summary wrong: Not a coma! (5, Informative)

MightyMartian (840721) | more than 4 years ago | (#31023294)

Considering that Schiavo had no cerebral cortex, it's pretty much a given that she had no awareness. The article doesn't say all patients in a vegetative state are aware, just that some are, or more to the point, have been misdiagnosed.

Re:Summary wrong: Not a coma! (4, Funny)

Chris Burke (6130) | more than 4 years ago | (#31023908)

I'm holding out for there being some consciousness in the medulla oblongata, held down and suppressed by the tyranny of the cerebral cortex.

Finally free, the medulla oblongata rejoices that now it is the dominant force of consciousness and now it will get to make all the decisions.

Only then it discovers it still can't do anything but make the body breath, pump blood, and occasionally barf.

Re:Summary wrong: Not a coma! (4, Informative)

EasyTarget (43516) | more than 4 years ago | (#31023472)

More importantly, she was put in a MRI scanner and there was nothing there..

http://www.amptoons.com/blog/archives/2005/03/20/regarding-the-cat-scan-of-terri-schiavos-brain/ [amptoons.com]

However, her situation was only one of the possible PVS states people can end up in..

I can only hope that -all- PVS patients get such a scan before anything is disconnected, and if there is a brain left they then get an active MRI scan to see if they are actually thinking. While it may not have saved Terri I'm pretty sure it will save some others.

Oh; and I really worry about decisions made before active MRI and other techniques came about, I think some horrible things have happened.

CORRECTON CAT not MRI (1)

EasyTarget (43516) | more than 4 years ago | (#31023524)

It was a CAT scan, not MRI, and certainly not active MRI.
- But I'm afraid that even 'just' a CAT scan can show whether brain tissue is present, and it wasnt.

Re:Summary wrong: Not a coma! (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31023544)

Oh; and I really worry about decisions made before active MRI and other techniques came about, I think some horrible things have happened.

I'd say that's pretty much a given. What's worse, being effectively paralyzed with no means of communication at all (until now) for years and years, or starving to death for a few weeks? Sounds horrible either way.

Re:Summary wrong: Not a coma! (1)

sznupi (719324) | more than 4 years ago | (#31023688)

Oh; and I really worry about decisions made before active MRI and other techniques came about, I think some horrible things have happened.

That's an unavoidable side-effect of progress. Think about how many lives were lost to trivial (nowadays) deseases. How many lost due to lack of basic resuscitation. How many are lost currently due to such trivial stuff as decapitation or lack of heart and brain activity for a pitifuly short periods of time.

Re:Summary wrong: Not a coma! (1)

dhTardis (1326285) | more than 4 years ago | (#31023804)

In this case, there's the special Steven King-like horror of being deliberately (if mistakenly) left to die while perfectly aware of what's happening to you and completely incapable of getting help.

Re:Summary wrong: Not a coma! (1)

RulerOf (975607) | more than 4 years ago | (#31023744)

Oh; and I really worry about decisions made before active MRI and other techniques came about, I think some horrible things have happened.

Indeed. It makes you wonder if people who were previously misdiagnosed as PVS but really had locked-in syndrome [wikipedia.org] had the "plug pulled" on them.

Of course, though, Terry Schiavo was not one of those people.

Re:Summary wrong: Not a coma! (3, Interesting)

Lumpy (12016) | more than 4 years ago | (#31023912)

Lots of horrible things happened. Insides of coffins from the earlier centuries were found to have scratch marks from the people inside waking up. Many declared dead were not dead but simply very sick. etc....

Honestly, How would you like to be incapacitated but aware and thrown onto a pyre... Yay! my last moments are insane amounts of agony as I am burned to death.

Re:Summary wrong: Not a coma! (2, Informative)

SatanicPuppy (611928) | more than 4 years ago | (#31023964)

RTFA moron [nytimes.com] . They specifically mentioned her as a case where this does not apply:

The new report, posted online by The New England Journal of Medicine, does not suggest that most apparently unresponsive patients can communicate or are likely to recover. The hidden ability displayed by the young accident victim is rare, the study suggested.

Nor does the finding apply to victims of severe oxygen depletion, like Terri Schiavo, the Florida woman who became unresponsive after her heart stopped and who was taken off life support in 2005 during an explosive controversy over patients’ rights.

--NYT (emphasis mine)

Re:Summary wrong: Not a coma! (1, Insightful)

KneelBeforeZod (1527235) | more than 4 years ago | (#31023248)

you mean 'Catatonic', right? That's how you would describe this condition.

Re:Summary wrong: Not a coma! (1)

Trent Hawkins (1093109) | more than 4 years ago | (#31023538)

I'm wondering if this whole thing is the same effect as 'communicating' through a Ouija board.

They should start doing some blind test where a you ask question that the doctors and immediate family members might not know about. Like, what's your Face Book account password and other personal information.

Then when we find their Face Book account trolled and the bank account mysteriously emptied, we'll know it works!

interesting.... (1)

cryoman23 (1646557) | more than 4 years ago | (#31023140)

so if i go into coma to get some peace and quiet while i finish planning my world domination your saying that i wont be able to get that piece and quiet.... im guessing the underground bunker is still the way to go then....

Re:interesting.... (1)

delinear (991444) | more than 4 years ago | (#31023210)

You don't have to answer. Of course, then they might turn the life support off, so not without it's drawbacks...

Re:interesting.... (1)

kalirion (728907) | more than 4 years ago | (#31023462)

You don't have to answer. Of course, then they might turn the life support off, so not without its advantages...

Fix'd

Binary! (-1, Offtopic)

XPeter (1429763) | more than 4 years ago | (#31023146)

01001011011010010110110001101100001000000110110101100101

Re:Binary! (1)

cryoman23 (1646557) | more than 4 years ago | (#31023226)

01101110011000010110000101100001

Re:Binary! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31023662)

NOT 10010001100111101001111010011110

Law & Order (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31023148)

Wasn't there a Law & Order episode about this?

Re:Law & Order (1)

Steauengeglase (512315) | more than 4 years ago | (#31023242)

Yes, and they made sure that the horrible vagetative serial rapist will spend plenty of time in the state prison!

You have been found punworthy (2, Funny)

0xdeadbeef (28836) | more than 4 years ago | (#31023730)

You mean the cereal rapist will spend time in Vegetative State Penitentiary.

Re:Law & Order (1)

Vanderhoth (1582661) | more than 4 years ago | (#31023324)

There was an episode of House. They had a monitor and the guy had to think yes or no to move the mouse pointer to the correct button to answer questions.

Confusion of terms (5, Insightful)

Compholio (770966) | more than 4 years ago | (#31023150)

... and have successfully communicated with 4 out of 23 patients previously thought to be in a coma.

A vegetative state is by definition where there is no detectable awareness. You could legitimately say that they were "previously thought to be in a vegetative state," but if you detect awareness then they are in a coma.

Re:Confusion of terms (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31023390)

When I really think about something like that I am so terrified that I start having an anxiety attack. I'd rather be dead.

Re:Confusion of terms (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31023474)

A vegetative state is by definition where there is no detectable awareness. You could legitimately say that they were "previously thought to be in a vegetative state," but if you detect awareness then they are in a coma.

A coma is by definition a lack of consciousness. (The conscious alternative is being asleep.) If they are aware, they are not comatose.

What this group is is more akin to locked-in, where one is awake and occasionally even alert, but insensate and immobile.

Re:Confusion of terms (2, Informative)

Scrameustache (459504) | more than 4 years ago | (#31023778)

... and have successfully communicated with 4 out of 23 patients previously thought to be in a coma.

A vegetative state is by definition where there is no detectable awareness. You could legitimately say that they were "previously thought to be in a vegetative state," but if you detect awareness then they are in a coma.

A persistent vegetative state is a condition of patients with severe brain damage who were in a coma, but then progressed to a state of wakefulness without detectable awareness. [wikipedia.org]

Vegetative > coma > dead.

Terrible fear (2, Insightful)

Thyamine (531612) | more than 4 years ago | (#31023170)

This is one of those terrible fears. It's great that they have found a way to communicate with someone in this state, but at the same time this type of story makes me ponder how horrific that must be for the person.

Re:Terrible fear (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31023284)

Well if it's so awful then why don't they just speak up? Eh? Eh?

Re:Terrible fear (1)

delinear (991444) | more than 4 years ago | (#31023456)

Well it could help with the recovery process, if having their friends and family support them aids the recovery process then it would be a big morale boost to those people to know their messages are getting through. It must be easy for the family of patients in such a state to get disheartened and give up hope. It's only a small crumb of comfort but it's better than we've been able to offer so far.

Re:Terrible fear (1)

IndustrialComplex (975015) | more than 4 years ago | (#31023460)

This is one of those terrible fears. It's great that they have found a way to communicate with someone in this state, but at the same time this type of story makes me ponder how horrific that must be for the person.

Practice those lucid dreams.

Re:Terrible fear (5, Funny)

machine321 (458769) | more than 4 years ago | (#31023686)

Especially if a land mine has taken your sight, taken your speech, taken your hearing, taken your arms, taken your legs, taken your soul, and left you with life in hell.

Re:Terrible fear (1)

QuantumRiff (120817) | more than 4 years ago | (#31023732)

Yeah, straight out of World War 1, and Johnny Got His Gun [wikipedia.org]

Great! (4, Insightful)

Itninja (937614) | more than 4 years ago | (#31023172)

So all they have to do is live in an MRI machine for the rest of their lives and they can communicate. Problem solved!

Re:Great! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31023352)

And what would they probably say? "Kill me...."

Re:Great! (2, Informative)

dyingtolive (1393037) | more than 4 years ago | (#31023416)

- He's blinking... it's Morse Code..
- What does it say? - "Kill me." Over and over again. It says, "Kill me."

Re:Great! (1)

delinear (991444) | more than 4 years ago | (#31023470)

Well they could tell you where they left the car keys, that would be helpful.

Re:Great! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31023708)

Wow. It's amazing that a Slashdork would post this but even more amazing is that it isn't modded down.

For as much as the Slashdorks cry about pure reseach funding in the Bush administration you'd think that they'd have a solid understanding that this kind of research has nothing to do about finding a cure but rather to better understand a condition.

Next we will be modding up posts that discredit the LHC because the direct research isn't going to make a microwave oven more efficent or help increase the bandwidth across copper.

That's what the Next X-Prize is for (1)

malloc (30902) | more than 4 years ago | (#31023918)

The ultimate use for a brain-computer interface:
http://slashdot.org/story/10/02/03/1722200/Next-X-Prize-mdash-10M-For-a-Brain-Computer-Interface [slashdot.org]

So it isn't pointless to keep your loved-one around, with the real hope of future technical developments letting them interact with society again.

4 out of 23? (1)

lymond01 (314120) | more than 4 years ago | (#31023192)

have successfully communicated with 4 out of 23 patients previously thought to be in a coma.

That's actually a better return than I get on security surveys sent to faculty...

Re:4 out of 23? (2, Insightful)

stubob (204064) | more than 4 years ago | (#31023278)

Not to mention replies to résumés.

Re:4 out of 23? (1)

Amorymeltzer (1213818) | more than 4 years ago | (#31023590)

This post could use a +1 Depressingly unemployed.

Re:4 out of 23? (1)

mcgrew (92797) | more than 4 years ago | (#31023340)

If you're only sending out 23 surveys you need to take a remedial statistics course. And actually an almost 25% return rate is very good for any survey. Most folks are lucky to get a 10% return.

Re:4 out of 23? (3, Funny)

IndustrialComplex (975015) | more than 4 years ago | (#31023520)

If you're only sending out 23 surveys you need to take a remedial statistics course. And actually an almost 25% return rate is very good for any survey. Most folks are lucky to get a 10% return.

What if you only have 23 faculty members?

Damn, you know last night I asked my wife how her day was. What a fool I was. How could I ever get valid results with such a small sample pool.

Re:4 out of 23? (1)

mcgrew (92797) | more than 4 years ago | (#31023738)

Asking your wife how her day was was hardly a sample. If there are onlt 23 faculty members, why do you even need a survey?

Re:4 out of 23? (1)

daenris (892027) | more than 4 years ago | (#31023898)

OP never said there were only 23 surveys sent out, he just said that 4 out of 23 was a better return rate. Maybe there were 230 surveys sent out and less than 40 were returned, just as an example. Also, just over 17% isn't really "almost 25%."

Re:4 out of 23? (1)

delinear (991444) | more than 4 years ago | (#31023522)

I wonder though if they chose patients who had a higher chance of responding to the measurement. I haven't RTFA (hey, this is /.) so I don't know if this is even possible, if statistically they can say patients who entered their current state due to a particular type of accident or illness have shown the best chance of eventually responding to stimuli so we'll try patients in this group first, or if it was just totally random. If it was the former, that might conceivably skew the results more favourably - I was similarly surprised at how high this was.

Re:4 out of 23? (1)

twiddlingbits (707452) | more than 4 years ago | (#31023806)

IIRC, 30 is considered the threshold amount of data samples to be comsidered statistically valid for a normal population. Lower than that allows results to quickly skewed by only 1 or 2 data points. One other point that was drummed home in Graduate Stats class was that many doctors don't know statistics and those that do many times cherry pick patients and/or filter the data so its skwed to the desirable result. In other words they are not impartial and let the data say what the results are for many reasons (money is #1) . In a case like this, everyone wants a good result to help these people but I'm afraid given the sample size and emotional component (and the fact no one has validated the study) leads me to say this is more marketing for more funding versus reporting a real breakthru in the treatment of such patients.

Captain Christopher Pike! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31023208)

that is all.

False Positive (3, Insightful)

BrotherBeal (1100283) | more than 4 years ago | (#31023214)

I'm not a neuroscientist, but it seems to me that 4 out of 23 is a pretty low success rate, especially given the kind of indirection the researchers were resorting to in order to elicit the signals they were looking for. How do we know, for example, that a patient doesn't have some kind of spurious activity in the brain area they're using to signal "A"? For that matter, how can we distinguish between "no answer" and a deliberate "B" in the absence of such activity? How can we assume that the patient, who by definition has brain damage, is capable of understanding the question correctly and answering correctly? I agree, this is better than absolutely no communication, but I'm curious how they intend to control for factors like these.

Re:False Positive (4, Informative)

MaXintosh (159753) | more than 4 years ago | (#31023330)

The problem of improper controls and false positives is really serious with these fMRI studies. It can be summed up in three words, really: Thinking dead salmon. [wired.com]

Re:False Positive (2, Insightful)

Thiez (1281866) | more than 4 years ago | (#31023338)

> How can we assume that the patient, who by definition has brain damage, is capable of understanding the question correctly and answering correctly?

That one seems rather easy, you ask them many questions and see how many of the answers make any sense. If a large part of them make sense, it is a reasonable to conclude the patient understood and was able to answer. Of course this would disqualify patients who are able to understand the question but unable to answer, and those who would be able to answer but cannot understand the question, and those who drift in and out of conciousness...

Re:False Positive (5, Informative)

Fnkmaster (89084) | more than 4 years ago | (#31023496)

I don't think they addressed the "no answer" vs. "B", however, they did assess the patients' ability to answer a series of factual questions about the patient's life prior to whatever put them where they were - I think that pretty much shows that there is something non-spurious being measured here and it's not just the dead salmon fMRI effect as another reply suggested - the probability of random readings matching up with the correct answers to a series of such questions seems very minute.

And 4 out of 23 is not a success rate - it's a misdiagnosis rate! Nobody in their right mind is claiming that *all* patients in persistent vegetative states have meaningful cognition occurring (except the EXTREMELY inaccurate and misleading Slashdot article title). Rather, some patients who failed the standard tests to assess consciousness levels are perhaps more conscious than was previously detectable.

Re:False Positive (1)

BrotherBeal (1100283) | more than 4 years ago | (#31023712)

That's a good point about this being a misdiagnosis rate - I hadn't thought of it from that angle. Even though I read the article, that point still wasn't terribly clear, so thanks for bringing it up. It's still not clear to me, though, how the spurious brain activity can be ruled out based on what the article described. Yes, you're right - asking a series of ?'s can be much less subject to random bias than asking a ? in isolation. However, is it possible for said spurious brain activity to occur for a longer period of time, enough to throw off multiple questions? What I'm thinking about is a situation analogous to the following. Imagine a kid who, for whatever reason, goes into "hollywood" seizures (uncontrolled body movements, shaking, etc). If you ask such a kid to shake to answer "yes" and then, while he is having a seizure, ask him a series of questions, he's not really answering even though he's displaying the predetermined signal. Now imagine that one these people, who by definition have brain damage, suffers from some sort of condition where that part of his brain lights up like a Christmas tree every so often (similar to a seizure I suppose). If you're looking for activity in the affected region as a signal, you'll see it but its relevance as a signal is completely lost. Is this scenario even possible? Bear in mind that I'm not a neuroscientist. I'm coming at this from the perspective of an interested outsider, so it's HIGHLY likely that I am missing something fundamental. If I am, though - I'd like to know (it's a slow day at work).

Re:False Positive (2, Informative)

IndustrialComplex (975015) | more than 4 years ago | (#31023924)

Just ask a long enough series of questions, randomize them so that you aren't asking them in a way to expect any sort of pattern in the responses.

Is your name John Smith? Expect yes
Did you attend wrong school name? Expect no
Did you get married?
Did you have any children?
Did you have 1 child
Did you have 2 children.
Was your mother's name...

And so on.

You can look into the rate at which your 'yes' or 'no' indicators happen. If it is him moving his thumb, when not being asked questions, or when being stimulated with sounds, does his thumb indicate yes more often than no, if so, how much?

You use that as a factor for determining what should be the neutral response. If it were binary random chance, you would expect a result of 50% correct to 50% incorrect after you apply your modifiers.

(You also have to factor in the person having brain damage and memory loss/dementia so it would be hard to determine how much correct is correct. You could even have a person who is fully cognitive but simply does not remember)

Re:False Positive (1)

LordNimon (85072) | more than 4 years ago | (#31023998)

but it seems to me that 4 out of 23 is a pretty low success rate

You wouldn't say that if you were one of those four.

Coma, not in a hollywood way. (5, Informative)

leuk_he (194174) | more than 4 years ago | (#31023222)

This is not really surprising if you are aware what a real coma is. There is a lot of states between fully consciousness and complete unconsciousness. In movies, and in soaps you switch between those states in a surprise wake-up. In reality this is much more complex.

Anyway, better diagnosis is needed to prevent accidents like Brain scan finds man was not in a coma--23 years later [cnet.com] and other possible improvements in brain damage treatment.

Re:Coma, not in a hollywood way. (5, Informative)

VShael (62735) | more than 4 years ago | (#31023384)

Sorry, but that man in the coma for 23 years, is only "communicating" with the world through "facilitated communication", which is a hoax. A discredited technique.

Re:Coma, not in a hollywood way. (1)

show me altoids (1183399) | more than 4 years ago | (#31023638)

There was a "researcher" at Syracuse University in the early 90s who claimed to be able to communicate with autistic students with this "facilitated communication." They could only do it when a parent was holding their arm with a pencil. They would basically draw whatever the parent was hoping they would draw. It boggles my mind that anyone fell for this.

Re:Coma, not in a hollywood way. (1)

IndustrialComplex (975015) | more than 4 years ago | (#31023748)

If you're only sending out 23 surveys you need to take a remedial statistics course. And actually an almost 25% return rate is very good for any survey. Most folks are lucky to get a 10% return.

Yet he was also shown to be able to answer yes/no questions by moving his foot. What you are referring to is facilitated communication and while THAT is dubious, I think a lot of the people here are jumping on the hoax bandwagon without really understanding the situation.

Re: Coma, not in a hollywood way. (1)

Black Parrot (19622) | more than 4 years ago | (#31024020)

This is not really surprising if you are aware what a real coma is. There is a lot of states between fully consciousness and complete unconsciousness. In movies, and in soaps you switch between those states in a surprise wake-up. In reality this is much more complex.

FWIW, there was a nice article for non-experts about this in Scientific American a couple of years ago.

Bad Headline as always (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31023250)

This has been plastered all over the news. The problem is, its similar to the Headline "Gas pedals can suddenly accelerate the car". Surely, some are misdiagnosed, while others have no brain to think with. Its ridiculous.

Euthanasia (4, Insightful)

Thiez (1281866) | more than 4 years ago | (#31023252)

> It does raise many ethical issues - for example - it is lawful to allow patients in a permanent vegetative state to die by withdrawing all treatment, but if a patient showed they could respond it would not be, even if they made it clear that was what they wanted.

It seems kinda silly that you're only allowed to die when you're unable to make that decision. To me it seems cruel to keep someone alive in a vegetative state just because they have enough of their conciousness left to want to end it. Yay for legalized euthanasia in the Netherlands.

Re:Euthanasia (5, Insightful)

Xelios (822510) | more than 4 years ago | (#31023376)

Relative: "Oh, I just don't know what he would want! I can't make this decision for him..."
Doctor: "Well, thanks to recent breakthroughs we may be able to ask him directly. Lets just get him into this MRI..."
Doctor: "The results are clear, we were able to communicate with him and he was very adamant about stopping all treatment. He clearly does not want to live out his remaining days in this state, and I don't think anyone could blame him for that."
Relative: "If that's his wish then yes, lets stop all treatment."
Doctor: "I'm sorry m'aam, but that's no longer an option..."

It may have been funny if it weren't so sad...

Re:Euthanasia (2, Insightful)

MrNemesis (587188) | more than 4 years ago | (#31023702)

Hopefully this'll be available outside of the UK but this is Terry Pratchett giving a lecture on his Alzheimers and legalised euthanasia from a few days ago: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00qmfgn [bbc.co.uk] . Guardian article covering the same subject here http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2010/feb/02/terry-pratchett-assisted-suicide-tribunal [guardian.co.uk]

Pratchett has done alot to provoke intelligent debate on assisted suicide and related matters, thankfully without much in the way of people shouting him down - I'm a firm believer that one should be able to put a "Please kill me nicely" card in their wallet/will, in the same way that people use donor cards to say "Yep, why the hell not use my liver as I'm not really in a position to care about it any more". Lying on a bed in a hospital for the last five years of my life, forgotten by and an embarrassment to my friends and family is my idea of hell.

Note that I don't know anyone who's been in a coma or a PVS but I know for damn sure that the person and the flesh and blood they used to live in aren't the same thing.

http://www.thedailymash.co.uk/news/society/opponents-of-assisted-suicide-still-convinced-it's-any-of-their-business-201002012428/ [thedailymash.co.uk]

Re:Euthanasia (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31023838)

Who cares what the patient thinks... damn if your mother was in a vegetable state on life support in your living room, wouldn't it be fun to experiment? Like developing brainwave sensors, measuring pain reactions and biological deterioration, why not do a open cranial surgery and see what goes on inside... Fun fun fun!

Vegetative patients say (5, Funny)

codewarren (927270) | more than 4 years ago | (#31023262)

"Eat me, I'm nutritious."

Re:Vegetative patients say (1)

Chris Burke (6130) | more than 4 years ago | (#31023526)

I thought they'd say "Aaah! Aaah! Put me back in the grooooound!"

Re:Vegetative patients say (1)

noidentity (188756) | more than 4 years ago | (#31023608)

You know, your joke got me to thinking... what if they hooked this up to some vegetables on someone's plate and the vegetables responded "don't eat us!". Would this cause the creation of PETV [thebigjewel.com] ? On the bright side, its members probably wouldn't last long without food...

Re:Vegetative patients say (1)

Archangel Michael (180766) | more than 4 years ago | (#31023992)

Soylent Green is PEOPLE!!

Like a House episode? (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31023264)

Isn't this like that House episode with the completely paralysed patient? At first he could only blink, but then that ability disappeared. He kept having visions where House and himself would appear on the beach and stuff. He was a black man as I recall. Anyway, they hooked him up to a brain-reading device which moved a cursor on a screen to indicate Yes or No (top and bottom halves of the screen).

Re:Like a House episode? (1)

MozeeToby (1163751) | more than 4 years ago | (#31023890)

Somewhat different, the man suffered from Locked-In Syndrome, which can look like a coma or vegetative state but is in fact different. Ussually people who are locked-in have control over their eye movements and blinking, but very little else. It is through eye movements that they can often communicate, abliet very slowly. One person, Jean-Dominique Bauby, was actually able to write a book about the experience of being locked in: The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, which was later made into a movie of the same name. It's pretty clear that the episode of house was based on that man's experiences.

Not just for dead salmon anymore! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31023270)

In case anybody missed this the first time: http://prefrontal.org/blog/2009/09/the-story-behind-the-atlantic-salmon/

Cal me skeptical... (1)

MaXintosh (159753) | more than 4 years ago | (#31023304)

On one hand, this would be very scary, if one were locked in like that, unable to speak, move, and thought to be in a vegetative state. TFA does a great job drumming up that fear in the readers.

On the other hand, fMRI studies also find dead salmon do a lot of thinking [wired.com] . The whole fMRI field suffers from what we'll generously call "Statistical Issues," and until we get better handle on it, I'm going to remain somewhat dubious about fMRI studies that claim to be able to detect this or that. 4/27 is not a stellar rate, and it isn't implausible that these 4 are really vegetative people who have various parts of their brains active as a matter of course.

Take a closer look (5, Insightful)

ZuchinniOne (1617763) | more than 4 years ago | (#31023310)

5 of 54 patients who underwent this procedure. Showed a possible response.

3 of those 5 it turned out showed awareness to normal stimuli and were either mislabeled by doctors, or their condition changed.

So basically that leaves 2 patients out of 51 seeming to "be able to modulate their brain activity". And only ONE of those was able to "correctly answer 5 of 6 yes/no questions"

This could be legit, but there is also PLENTY of room for statistical chance to have created this "result".

The bottom line is that too much of a big deal is being made out of a tiny kernel of good data in a mountain of null results.

Re:Take a closer look (1)

CannonballHead (842625) | more than 4 years ago | (#31023972)

3 of those 5 it turned out showed awareness to normal stimuli and were either mislabeled by doctors, or their condition changed.

That's scary. I'm glad they underwent this procedure which in turn showed they actually were aware to normal stimuli.

Not "facilitated communication" (1)

VShael (62735) | more than 4 years ago | (#31023334)

My first thought on reading the slashdot summary was "Not this again..." because there was a recent Belgian case of a man who was supposedly in a coma for 20+ years and was now communicating with the help of a woman. And it was total bull.

This does appear to be something different, though I imagine it may get confused with the known pseudoscience of facilitated communication.

Anyone up for some Ouija Board? (1)

hermiquin (1588683) | more than 4 years ago | (#31023444)

Facilitated communication can't be taken for real communication, in peer reviews it's usually discredited because the person that is really communicating is the "facilitator".

One beep for "yes", two for "no" (5, Funny)

kungfugleek (1314949) | more than 4 years ago | (#31023508)

Zap: "Is your name 'Fry'?"
Fry: "BEEP!"
Zap: "'Yes.' Ok. And, are you guilty!?"
Fry: "BEEP! BEEP!"
Zap: "Double 'Yes'!"

Sorry -- too lazy to dig for the exact quote.

fMRI is not perfect (5, Interesting)

bitslinger_42 (598584) | more than 4 years ago | (#31023516)

If you haven't check out this study [wired.com] publicized in Wired, where they detected human emotion activity in the brain of a salmon. A dead salmon.

Just because the fMRI shows some colors, that doesn't necessarily mean that there's really cognition going on. It could just be false detections from imperfect scanning, or it could be scientists seeing patterns in data that don't really exist, or it could be the result of our imperfect understanding of how the brain works, or a whole slew of other things.

This is made worse by things like the Houben case [sciencebasedmedicine.org] , which used Facilitated Communication to "prove" that Houben had an intact consciousness. FC hasn't passed any rigorous scientific study (i.e. blind tests to prevent the facilitator's motivations/desires from modifying the results), but stories like Houben cause those with loved ones with sever brain damage in PVS to start clamoring that there may still be hope. James Randi has written about FC [randi.org] , and the Houben case in particular.

Re:fMRI is not perfect (1)

AWhiteFlame (928642) | more than 4 years ago | (#31023670)

"It could just be false detections from imperfect scanning," fMRI is attuned to blood oxygen levels. The study doesn't really say any anything except "hey guys, remember that fMRI doesn't actually image neuron firings but increased oxygenated blood flow."

Re:fMRI is not perfect (1)

ZuchinniOne (1617763) | more than 4 years ago | (#31023956)

You are correct and there are a lot of bad fMRI studies out there. However the statistical analysis used in this study did not suffer from the same kinds of errors used in the dead salmon paper and other work.

The current study a whole host of problems that are unrelated to the fMRI methodology, which basically makes this a study about a single piece of good data in a mountain of useless data.

book and movie "Johnny get your gun" (2, Interesting)

peter303 (12292) | more than 4 years ago | (#31023552)

The book was about a WWI soldier who lost all four limbs, blind, deaf, and mute, yet still awake. The medical people thought his twitching was just instinct. Then someone realizes his head banging is Morse code. The story is from the patient's perspective. It resurfaces as an ant-war book periodically.

Re:book and movie "Johnny get your gun" (1)

hitnrunrambler (1401521) | more than 4 years ago | (#31023734)

Is that the movie that appears in the video for Metallica's One?

Re:book and movie "Johnny get your gun" (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31023856)

Yes, but the book is called "Johnny got his gun" .. a book written to describe the horrors of war. It is a gut wrenching story.

Re:book and movie "Johnny get your gun" (1)

gimmebeer (1648629) | more than 4 years ago | (#31023978)

Now the world is gone I'm just one, hold my breath as I wish for death... :headbang: - Being trapped in a meat coffin never sounded so awesome. Yes, that was the movie.

Nightmares (1)

nomorecwrd (1193329) | more than 4 years ago | (#31023554)

Anyone else is having nightmares with this news?
Imagine being 20 years locked down inside your body... I guess I would be begging for someone to pull the plug.

Curious Choice of Tasks (1)

smitty777 (1612557) | more than 4 years ago | (#31023568)

FTA: The team told him to use "motor" imagery like a tennis match to indicate "yes" and "spatial" imagery like thinking about roaming the streets for a "no".
 
I've done a little bit of research in the area of spatial vs motor visualization. I think they could have chosen a better discriminator for the "spatial" task - it could be that the physical act of "wandering the streets" could be confounded with "playing tennis". There are many more tasks that I believe would have tapped into a more pure measure of the spatial component (e.g., imagine rotating an object).

Interesting Article (1)

filesiteguy (695431) | more than 4 years ago | (#31023660)

I wonder if they expanded the fMRI to review what happens when other questions are posed. My brother-in-law has been in a "vegetative state" for 20+ years, since he smashed his car into a tree. I'd be curious to know what he thinks about things.

OTOH, is a vegetative state someone with consciousness or simply brain injured enough not to be able to respond?

Come on, Dr Brewer... (1)

Joel Rowbottom (89350) | more than 4 years ago | (#31023672)

prot's been telling us that for years.

What if Steven Hawking finally slipped away? (1)

paiute (550198) | more than 4 years ago | (#31023870)

One day I thought, "What if one day Steven Hawking had the most blinding insightful revelation anyone has ever had, but it was just after all his muscle control was lost?"

So I wrote this. (Disclaimer: No physicists were actually harmed in the writing of this play.)

http://www.scribd.com/doc/19550880/GUT-The-Grand-Unified-Theory-A-oneact-play-with-seven-blackouts [scribd.com]

One beep for yes (1)

chaynlynk (1523701) | more than 4 years ago | (#31023920)

Two beeps for stop bothering me, I'm sleeping!

Republican ... Democrat (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31024016)

I think this may explain a lot !

Correction: SOME (1)

192939495969798999 (58312) | more than 4 years ago | (#31024024)

Some patients, appearing to be in a vegetative state, are in fact capable of a form of communication.

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