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Awakened from a coma: A case report

A research team out of the University of Munich is reporting they were able to awaken an 82-year-old woman who had been in a persistent vegetative state for seven months after suffering a stroke nine years prior.

After written informed consent was obtained from her son, the researchers were able to awaken the patient by giving her intramuscular injections of her own immune cells, which were “activated in the laboratory to produce substances thought to modulate brain activity.” After starting the weekly injections, the patient responded to commands, regained some strength/movement in her weakened limbs, opened her eyes, responded to family members, and began to regain her swallowing reflex after years on a feeding tube.

The success of the treatment may have resulted from the “production of neuroactive substances, such as neurotrophin-3 and brain-derived neurotrophic factor,” through activated immune cells. “After isolation of the cells from her peripheral blood, the immune cells were incubated in vitro with the OKT3 anti-CD3 antibody, which activates T lymphocytes.” The production of these neuroactive substances are thought to “restart” or improve synaptic activities, “as they are known to enhance the release of neurotransmitters from neurons.

Although the patient subsequently passed due to aspirated vomit, according to Dr. Rohan Ramakrishna, MD, chief resident in neurological surgery at the University of Washington, Seattle, “The implications of her awakening are astounding.” The results of this study, published in the Journal of Medical Case Reports, suggest that similar injections might be effective in patients who have suffered traumatic brain injuries and strokes. “This news is especially significant since, despite decades of research in neuroscience and behavioral medicine, no therapies have emerged in the last 50 years that systematically reverse coma in patients that have suffered significant strokes or traumatic brain injuries. However, the last decade of neuroscientific research has produced a wealth of data regarding neural responses to injury and potential routes to neuronal rehabilitation and even restoration.”