Scientists in the School of Psychology at the University of Birmingham are exploring the potential for a non-invasive form of brain stimulation to restore motor function in patients who are unresponsive after severe brain injury.
Recent improvements in the provision of intensive care have increased the chances of surviving the most severe brain injuries. Many of these patients progress to a state in which awareness and external responsiveness are either absent (i.e., the vegetative state) or greatly reduced (i.e., the minimally conscious state). It is now known that some of these patients retain a much higher level of awareness than could be expected by their clinical diagnoses, but they are simply unable to show it with their behaviours - trapped in their unresponsive bodies.
Supported by a grant from the Medical Research Council (MRC), this three-year project will assess the potential for transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS), to modulate the activity of the brain regions that control movement, and increase responsiveness as a result.
The work will focus on the mechanisms underlying the effects of stimulation in the healthy brain, with the long-term goal of developing effective interventions patients in a vegetative or a minimally conscious state.
This project provides a theoretical and practical framework for evidence-based brain stimulation protocols to restore a degree of motor control in unresponsive patients, thus improving diagnostic accuracy, quality of life, and rehabilitation options.