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Sleeping pill temporarily helps those in vegetative state

25th May 2006

People in a permanent vegetative state have been temporarily revived after being given sleeping pill, according to new research.

Scientists from South Africa, writing in the NeuroRehabilitation journal, believe that Zolpidem, which is commonly used to help insomniacs, could help in the battle to permanently revive people from their vegetative state.

A person in a vegetative state may appear awake but shows no perception of the world around them or any response to sounds.

The three patients, all male, in their thirties and in their condition due to car accidents, were found to improve dramatically within 20 minutes of receiving the drug, although they were restored to their previous state within four hours.

One of the patients, who had been in the condition for three years, managed to talk to his family and answer simple questions. Another was able to catch a basketball after receiving the drug.

Dr Ralf Clauss, one of the researchers involved in the study, told the BBC: "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. But it's the dormant areas which 'wake up'."

Further investigations in to the phenomenon are expected in the near future.