A recent study by European doctors may heighten the level of care that physicians must provide patients who are comatose due to a brain injury. According to an article by the London National Health Service, a four year hospital trial found that a brain scan could identify which patients were likely to wake up from their coma. Positron emission tomography, also called PET, is a specific type of brain scanning technology. With it, doctors were able to identify “hidden levels of consciousness” within the brains of a third of the patients studied.
The trial reportedly involved 126 patients. Of those patients, 41 of them were previously classified in a persistent vegetative state. Doctors, using the PET scan, determined that 13 patients demonstrated some consciousness, leading to the conclusion that they were misdiagnosed by their previous physicians. Out of the 13, nine came out of a coma within one year of the study. Three died from unrelated complications and one remained comatose. This reflects an accuracy rate of 74% compared to a 56% accuracy rate for magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), which is most commonly utilized.
PET scans are commonly used for cancer patients, but not in the area of brain injuries. They are completed with injections of radioactive tracer, which create 3D images of activity within the cells. Alternatively, MRI scans demonstrate the level of blood flow within the brain. This blood flow alerts doctors to brain activity. According to the article, PET technology is expensive and challenging to use, but scientists hope that these types of findings will assist in making them more financially accessible and easier to use.