Researchers in Belgium have developed a technique that allows coma patients that are in a minimally-conscious state to become aware enough to communicate — for up to a week — using mild electrical stimulation to their brains.

Building on the results of a 2014 study that showed that electrical stimulation of the brain could briefly help raise the state of awareness in coma patients, a research team from Belgium’s University of Liège performed a similar experiment using longer sessions, where 16 participants, either in a minimally conscious or vegetative state, were given 20-minute treatments for five days.
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Brain implants that allow the direct interface between the human brain and machines have been in development for some time now. However, aside from the daunting task of figuring out how to couple solid-state electronics with what amounts to a biological computer, another problem faced by researchers is the body’s reaction to foreign objects: implanted electrodes work just fine when initially inserted, but over time scar tissue builds up over them, hampering their ability to both read and transmit electrical signals between themselves and their targeted neurons. However, researchers at Harvard Medical School have come up with a new method of implantation that may be able to avoid this problem, allowing for long-term use of such implants.
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One of medical science’s indispensable diagnostic and research tools over the past quarter-century has been functional magnetic resonance imaging technology, or fMRI. This is a non-invasive imaging technique that makes use of strong magnetic fields and radio waves to produce three-dimensional images of the interior of the human body, and has revolutionized research into brain activity, using increased blood flow to indicate corresponding increases in neural activity. However, a new study has called the accuracy of the device’s software into question, after discovering a bug in commonly-used MRI interpretation software packages — a bug that may very well call the results of over 40,000 medical research studies into question.
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