The media is currently reporting on 'mind-reading' experiments using brain scanners. Whilst the 'yes-no' response is news, the use of brain scanners to detect awareness in comatose patients is not.
Research into the use of fMRI to detect covert awareness in the vegetative state has been conducted since at least 2004. In 2009 scientists demonstrated learning behaviour in comatose subjects.
Scientists have pursued several lines of inquiry into the possibility of meaningful communication with comatose patients. The current line: detecting yes-no responses looks very promising.
For seven years the man lay in a hospital bed, showing no signs of consciousness since sustaining a traumatic brain injury in a car accident. His doctors were convinced he was in a vegetative state. Until now.
To the astonishment of his medical team, the patient has been able to communicate with the outside world after scientists worked out, in effect, a way to read his thoughts.
They devised a technique to enable the man, now 29, to answer yes and no to simple questions through the use of a hi-tech scanner, monitoring his brain activity.