Into the Gray Zone with neuroscientist Adrian Owen

Posted on
We’ve usually thought that people in comas or ‘vegetative’ states are completely cut off from the world. But groundbreaking work shows that as much as 20 per cent of patients whose brains were considered non-responsive, turn out to be vibrantly alive, existing in a sort of twilight zone. Neuroscientist Adrian Owen guides Paul Kennedy into that “gray” zone, in conversation and in a public talk.
Adrian Owen is a neuroscientist at Western University in London, Ontario. 1:12

Traditionally, patients have been judged as non-responsive based on demonstrated behaviour, on whether they can twitch a finger or move a hand or similar.  But that needs a physical response. What happens if the patient’s brain is conscious and aware of what’s going on, but simply can’t will the body to move?  

Over two decades, Dr. Owen and his team have used advanced neuroimaging technologies to scan patients’ brains while asking them to imagine performing certain tasks.

Imagining playing tennis lights up specific parts of the brain. Imagining walking through the patient’s home lights up other distinct parts of the brain. Using these for simple yes or no questions, neuroscientists can communicate with some patients, learning how aware they are of their surroundings, or even simply asking them whether they are in pain.

In his book, Into The Gray Zone, Dr. Owen describes some of the key patients and moments from his research. The stories of Kate, Kevin, Debbie, Carole, Scott, Juan, and many others, are a story of science and of humanity.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Into the Gray Zone with neuroscientist Adrian Owen

Posted on
We’ve usually thought that people in comas or ‘vegetative’ states are completely cut off from the world. But groundbreaking work shows that as much as 20 per cent of patients whose brains were considered non-responsive, turn out to be vibrantly alive, existing in a sort of twilight zone. Neuroscientist Adrian Owen guides Paul Kennedy into that “gray” zone, in conversation and in a public talk.
Adrian Owen is a neuroscientist at Western University in London, Ontario. 1:12

Traditionally, patients have been judged as non-responsive based on demonstrated behaviour, on whether they can twitch a finger or move a hand or similar.  But that needs a physical response. What happens if the patient’s brain is conscious and aware of what’s going on, but simply can’t will the body to move?  

Over two decades, Dr. Owen and his team have used advanced neuroimaging technologies to scan patients’ brains while asking them to imagine performing certain tasks.

Imagining playing tennis lights up specific parts of the brain. Imagining walking through the patient’s home lights up other distinct parts of the brain. Using these for simple yes or no questions, neuroscientists can communicate with some patients, learning how aware they are of their surroundings, or even simply asking them whether they are in pain.

In his book, Into The Gray Zone, Dr. Owen describes some of the key patients and moments from his research. The stories of Kate, Kevin, Debbie, Carole, Scott, Juan, and many others, are a story of science and of humanity.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *