Comatose man, 25, has his brain 'jump-started' using targeted ultrasound

ultra sound coma brain1
Thanks to the wonders of modern science, a large number of people who go into comas can emerge from them with no ill effects. However, a small number of patients — a number estimated at around one in 10,000 — will successfully wake from their comas, but suffer severe impairment of their mental functions.

“These are people who straddle the line between being conscious and being unconscious,” Dr. Martin Monti, associate professor of psychology and neurosurgery at UCLA, told Digital Trends. “They awake from the coma, but they don’t regain their cognitive abilities. They can’t talk to their family members; they can’t look around them; they can’t respond to questions, or understand what’s happening. They lose their rights to determine what medical treatment to undergo. It’s a terrible, terrible thing to happen.”

Monti recently made a significant advance in helping these kinds of patients, however, thanks to some pioneering work in which he “jump-started” the brain of a 25-year-old man using focused ultrasound. The technique uses sonic stimulation to affect the neurons in the thalamus, an egg-shaped structure in the brain that serves as its central hub for information processing. “Imagine it like a tiny spear of ultrasound energy, which we can target wherever we want, used to excite neurons in that part of the brain,” Monti said.

The technique could serve as a safe, noninvasive alternative to more risky surgical procedures in which electrodes are implanted directly into this part of the brain. “Right now, the technology is definitely there, but our device needs a little work to make it something a doctor in any hospital could use,” Monti continued. In the future,  he noted, it might prove possible to build a portable low-cost device, possibly in the form of a helmet, which could be used to help “wake up” those individuals in a vegetative or minimally conscious state.

For the time being, though, he said that more work needs to be done. “This is only one patient that we’ve treated,” he stressed. “It’s perfectly possible that we were just mighty lucky. This patient could have recovered regardless; we could just have happened to do this procedure on the exact day he was going to recover anyway. I need to do this on another 10, 20 patients to convince myself — and the scientific community — that it was our work that did this.”

But it’s an exciting development? “Absolutely it is,” he said.

Home Theater

Sony’s 360 Reality Audio is the epic sound revolution you didn’t know you needed

After Sony’s utterly bizarre press conference, I almost missed what was perhaps the most impactful sonic experience at the show. Luckily, I went back to Sony’s booth on the last day of the show, only to have my mind blown.
News

Alphabet’s health watch monitors your heart health, is approved by the FDA

A health monitoring watch being developed by Alphabet, Google's parent company, has received clearance from the FDA as a medical device. This means that the device has been found to be safe and can legally be sold in the U.S.
Emerging Tech

Scientists successfully grow human blood vessels in a Petri dish

Researchers have managed to grow human blood vessels in a Petri dish for the first time, and even to successfully implant them into live mice. The results could be a game-changer for diabetes.
Home Theater

Here’s why you’re not getting Netflix in HD or 4K, and how to fix it

Are you having trouble watching your favorite movies or TV shows on Netflix in HD or 4K? We explain why loading takes so long, why the picture quality fluctuates, and what you can do about it.
Emerging Tech

Want to know which drones are flying near you? There’s an app for that

Want to know what that mysterious drone buzzing over your head is up to? A new system developed by AirMap, Google Wing, and Kittyhawk.io could soon tell you -- via a map on your phone.
Emerging Tech

A Japanese hotel fires half its robot staff for being bad at their jobs

Japan’s oddball Henn na Hotel has fired half of its 243 robot staff. The reason? Because these labor-saving machines turned out to be causing way more problems than they were solving.
Emerging Tech

CERN plans to build a massive particle collider that dwarfs the LHC

CERN already has the world's biggest particle accelerator. Now it wants a bigger one. Meet the 9 billion euro Future Circular Collider that will allow physicists to extend their study of the universe and matter at the smallest level.
Emerging Tech

Forget fireworks. Japan will soon have artificial meteor showers on tap

Tokyo-based startup Astro Live Experiences is preparing to launch its first artificial meteor shower over Japan, serving as a showcase of its prowess in the space entertainment sector.
Cars

Robomart’s self-driving grocery store is like Amazon Go on wheels

Robomart's driverless vehicle is like an Amazon Go store on wheels, with sensors tracking what you grab from the shelves. If you don't want to shop online or visit the grocery store yourself, Robomart will bring the store to you.
Emerging Tech

Glowing space billboards could show ads in the night sky

Look up at the night sky in 2020 and you might see an ad for McDonald's floating among the stars. A Russian startup is working on a project that uses a constellation of small satellites in low-Earth orbit to create glowing ads.
Emerging Tech

New brainwave reader tells teachers if students are concentrating

Massachusetts-based startup BrainCo has developed brainwave-reading headbands which can reportedly help reveal if students are concentrating in class. Here's how they're being used.
Emerging Tech

Fears about kids’ screen use may have been overblown, Oxford researchers find

Many people take it as gospel that digital technologies are harmful to young people’s mental health. But is this true? A recent study from the University of Oxford takes a closer look.
Emerging Tech

Meet Wiliot, a battery-less Bluetooth chip that pulls power from thin air

A tiny chip from a semiconductor company called Wiliot could harvest energy out of thin air, the company claims. No battery needed. The paper-thin device pulls power from ambient radio frequencies like Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and cell signals.
Emerging Tech

Hexbot is a modular robot arm that does everything from drawing to playing chess

Who wouldn’t want their own personal robot arm to do everything from laser engraving to competing against you in a game of chess? That's what Hexbot, a new modular robot, promises to deliver.