Scottish researchers study fMRI's role in coma patients

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The Scottish imaging network SINAPSE has formed the Aberdeen Coma Science Group, which will employ functional MRI ( fMRI) to investigate brain function and awareness of patients in comas, vegetative states or who suffer from ‘locked in’ syndrome.

The first such organization in Scotland, the Aberdeen Coma Science Group plans to build on several previous studies, soliciting the help of neuroscientists, psychologists, computer scientists, physicists and mathematicians from the University of Aberdeen.

In one such study, conducted at the University of Cambridge in England, researchers found that upon being told to imagine playing a game of tennis, a woman who was in a persistent vegetative state exhibited similar brain functions to a group of healthy individuals given the same instructions.

The group also plans to expand on research conducted at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Leipzig, Germany, in which patients were fully anesthetized, therefore appearing unaware of their surroundings, yet their brains responded to stimuli in ways similar to the participants’ conscious responses.

“Our aim is to develop new diagnostic methods for these patients because knowing to what extent a patient is aware will not only be of great importance to doctors, carers and therapists but also to the patient’s relatives,” said Christian Schwarzbauer, PhD, chair in Neuroimaging at the University of Aberdeen.

Schwarzbauer hopes the SINAPSE (Scottish Imaging Network: A Platform for Scientific Excellence)/Aberdeen Group will image its first patient by April.