By Terry Vanderheyden

SPRINGS, South Africa, May 23, 2006 (LifeSiteNews.com) – South African researchers have discovered a medication that temporarily arouses patients from a permanent vegetative state.

Scientists Ralf Clauss, now practicing nuclear medicine in the UK, and Wally Nel, in family practice in South Africa, found that Zolpidem, an insomnia drug, effectively restored consciousness to three individuals who were all in permanent vegetative states for at least three years before commencing the trial. After administering the drug, which the doctors have been doing every morning for three years, the three individuals all “wake up” to varying degrees, answer simple questions and engage in activities like watching television.

Their findings, published in the most recent issue of the journal NeuroRehabilitation, describe the confirmed permanent vegetative states of two motor vehicle accident patients and one near drowning patient. Drs. Clauss and Nel stated that, according to accepted measures of cognitive function – the Rancho Los Amigos Cognitive score – their level of consciousness was dramatically improved from a range of I-II before to V-VII after the drug.

According to BBC News coverage, patient L had been in a vegetative state for three years, showing no response to touch and no reaction to his family. After Zolpidem, he was able to talk to them and answer simple questions. Patient G was also able to answer simple questions and catch a basketball. Patient N had been ‘constantly screaming,’ but stopped after being given the drug when he started watching TV and responding to his family.

Dr. Clauss told the BBC that “For every damaged area of the brain, there is a dormant area, which seems to be a sort of protective mechanism. The damaged tissue is dead, there’s nothing you can do,” he explained. “But it’s the dormant areas which ‘wake up’.”

Read the journal abstract on line:
http://iospress.metapress.com/(kow1o5z5wldez0qoxazfvxbe)/app/home/contribution.asp?referrer=parent&backto=issue,4,11;journal,1,33;linkingpublicationresults,1:103177,1