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Dr. Brian Edlow joins the MGH Research Scholars Class of 2023

Apr 5, 2023

Detecting Covert Consciousness in the Intensive Care Unit

Annually, more than one million individuals worldwide suffer from severe brain injuries. The prompt recovery of consciousness is a crucial factor in predicting long-term recuperation. In the intensive care unit (ICU), around 15-20% of patients may have covert consciousness, surpassing what their bedside behavioral assessment indicates.

Lacking reliable methods to detect consciousness in the ICU, clinicians and families might terminate life-sustaining therapy too soon. This is the cause of death for up to 80% of patients with acute severe brain injuries. Hence, it is vital to develop new tools that can identify covert consciousness accurately.

Dr. Edlow heads a multidisciplinary team that aims to improve and execute a novel technique - transcranial magnetic stimulation electroencephalography (TMS-EEG) - in the ICU to detect consciousness and anticipate recovery in patients with severe brain injuries.

TMS-EEG has demonstrated unparalleled precision in detecting consciousness in patients with persistent brain injuries. This provides a strong clinical and ethical rationale for translating TMS-EEG to the ICU.

If successful, this project can detect covert consciousness indications, avoid premature termination of life-sustaining therapy in the ICU, and potentially save lives.

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