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Researchers Use New Technique to Measure Consciousness

Update Date: Aug 15, 2013 03:29 PM EDT

Due to medical advances, researchers have found new ways of measuring different types of brain activities. In a new study, researchers reported using a new technique that allowed them to measure consciousness. This new form of measurement and understanding of brain activity could potentially help with future research looking for better treatment options for people with brain injuries.

The research team from the University of Milan in Italy created a numerical index that assisted them in their process of measuring consciousness. For this study, the research team recruited 52 participants, some who were healthy when they were awake, sleeping or under anesthesia and others who suffered from brain-injuries. The researchers used a device called the trans-cranial magnetic stimulation that was created by Nexstim for the new measurement technique called the Perturbational Complexity Index (PCI). The device is capable of collecting information on electrical responses that the brain produces when induced by stimulation. The amount of brain activity in response to the stimulation pulse helped researchers determine if the brain was still conscious and to what extent based on the PCI.

The device allowed the researchers to monitor the improvement of the injured participants who were in the intensive care unit with very low levels of consciousness. The device revealed that the people who suffered from brain-injuries had higher than expected levels of consciousness even though they did not respond to commands. The levels of consciousness measured here were compared to healthy participants who were asleep or under anesthesia.

"It will be very important to perform measurements right in the ICU in the acute phase to have an objective marker of what's happening and to track improvements occurring spontaneously or brought about by treatment," Study author Marcello Massimini said in a phone interview reported by Bloomberg. "If you have a number, you can start working towards an evidence-based treatment."

The researchers hope that their findings could pave the way for the development of better treatment options for people with brain-injuries. The study was published in Science Translational Medicine

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