Harvard Medical School Discovers What Could Be A Better Treatment For Coma


Researchers from the Harvard Medical School believe that they have discovered parts of the brain that are related to the existence of consciousness. Further understanding of these parts might lead to finding better treatments for coma patients.

Human consciousness has two critical components - arousal and awareness. Between the two, arousal is much easier to study because it is regulated by the brainstem. Awareness, on the other hand, is more difficult to pin down. Scientists, however, have discovered two specific cortex regions that might be part of the consciousness.

Michael Fox, from the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Centre at Harvard Medical School and the lead researcher, said that they have found a connection between the brain stem regions of both arousal and awareness.

In order to arrive at the conclusion, the researchers conducted a study on 36 patients, 12 of whom are unconscious, and compared the brain stems of the conscious and unconscious patients. They found out that a particular area in the brainstem called the rostral dorsolateral pontine tegmentum is damaged in 10 unconscious patients while only 1 of the 24 conscious patients have it.

The rostral dorsolateral pontine tegmentum or dorsal pons is found in the brainstem and is responsible for several groups of sensory and motor processes. It also has a role in the control of levels of sleep and levels of arousal and awareness.

The researchers explored further and found out that the rostral dorsolateral pontine tegmentum is linked to two areas of the cortex. To further check their findings, they cross-referenced it with the brain scan results of 45 unconscious patients and discovered that all of them have some disruptions in that area of the brain. With the discovery, the scientists hope that this could lead to better treatments of those who are in coma and other unconscious states.

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