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BBC Panorama highlights innovative brain function research at Addenbrooke’s

14 November 2012
A BBC Panorama programme looking at patients in vegetative states, which was partly filmed at Addenbrooke’s, aired on BBC last night. (13 November)

The Mind Reader: Unlocking My Voice was in the making for a year and involved filming at Addenbrooke’s, Putney hospital and in Canada. It follows three young male patients who sustained traumatic brain injury following car or bike accidents, from their recruitment at Putney to Addenbrooke’s on the Clinical Research Facility and at the Wolfson Brain Imaging Centre, including the outcome of the testing.

The programme also showed Canadian Scott Routley communicating with researchers via a brain scan, proving that he is conscious and aware. It is the first time such a severely brain damaged patient has been able to provide clinically relevant information to doctors. The breakthrough was achieved by former Addenbrooke’s neuroscientist Professor Adrian Owen, who developed a technique for reading the minds of people in a vegetative state nearly three years ago.

Professor John Pickard, professor of neurology at Addenbrooke's and chairman of the Wolfson Brain Imaging Centre said: “Our studies over the last twenty years, pursued in collaboration with other leading centres in North America and Belgium, have advanced our ability to distinguish between the different types of disorders of consciousness and to plan studies of novel treatments and methods of communication.

“The Acute Brain Injury programme at Cambridge has made substantial contributions to improving the outcome of patients.  However, we recognise that, despite our best efforts, some survivors remain severely disabled, and that it is essential that we continue to pursue improvements in their care through innovative research. “

“The breakthrough with Scott Routley was a result of a joint collaboration between ourselves and scientists in Canada. It really was a team effort. Without our research, the work carried out with Scott Routley would not have been possible.”

Both Addenbrooke’s and the University of Cambridge are making major investments in neuro-rehabilitation with the opening of the J2 Rapid Access Acute Rehabilitation Unit (RAAR) and the new Chair of Rehabilitation.

The Cambridge work is funded by Smiths Charity, the MRC and the NIHR Biomedical Research Centre. The team is also part of an international collaboration with Liege and New York, funded by the McDonnell Foundation which allows many more patients to be studied with the same methods.