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Scanning for Consciousness

June 1, 2016

A brain scanning technique could help determine levels of awareness experienced by patients in comas.

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BOB HIRSHON (host):

Scanning for consciousness. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Patients in a coma may be completely unresponsive, and yet still have some awareness or consciousness. But how can doctors and loved ones know? In the journal Current Biology, neurologist Stephen Laurys at the Université de Liege in Belgium and his colleagues report that using a PET scan to measure brain metabolism can help.

STEPHEN LAURYS (Université de Liege):

And we can basically see how active the brain still is; how inactive in case of patients who are vegetative; unresponsive. And so we look for the differences at the whole brain level.

HIRSHON:

Patients showing brain metabolism levels that were at or above 42% of normal were much more likely to show overt signs of consciousness within a year. Laurys says the test is far from foolproof, but could help doctors and loved ones make more informed medical decisions.  I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.