Western neuroscientist’s book explores the borderlines of consciousness

Adrian Owen, Canadian Excellence Research Chair in Cognitive Neuroscience and Imaging at Western University, has demonstrated that functional neuroimaging can be used to detect awareness in patients previously thought to be in a vegetative, non-aware state.

Western neuroscientist Adrian Owen’s work has transformed how medical teams, families and philosophers understand the spaces between life and death for people in a vegetative state. And now Owen is sharing his discoveries and insights more broadly in his book, Into the Gray Zone, released today and published by Simon & Schuster.

Owen, Canadian Excellence Research Chair in Cognitive Neuroscience and Imaging at Western University, writes of his breakthroughs with non-responsive patients who were in the “grey zone”: neither in a coma nor awake. Owen captured international medical and media attention when he found through fMRI scans that 20 per cent of these non-responsive patients may in fact be conscious.

He details cases of brain-injured Carol, Jeff, Juan, Scott, Amy and Kate – whose brain scans lit up when they were asked specific questions in the scanner. How his team is able to communicate with them, and they with the team, is at the core of the book.

More than a discussion of new frontiers in neuroscience, this is about “finding people who have been lost to us and reconnecting them with the people they love and who love them,” Owen writes.

“I was initially reluctant to write this book, but I became convinced that all of us – not just neuroscientists and other researchers – have much to learn from the stories of people previously dismissed as being in a vegetative state,” Owen said.

“Our team at the Brain and Mind Institute at Western is in the vanguard of discovering what it is that makes us human, what it is to be conscious, what it is that makes us truly alive. Into the Gray Zone gets to the heart, and the brain, of that important study of life and death and the myriad degrees of awareness in between,” he said.

The book is dotted with questions about quality-of-life care, end-of-life care and the science and ethics of emerging technology that might one day allow us to decode how our minds operate. When doctors, families and other caregivers work with these patients, it introduces complex new layers of consideration about care, consent, right-to-die and right-to-life issues.

Video interviews, excerpts and other materials can also be found at http://www.intothegrayzone.com/

MEDIA CONTACT: Debora Van Brenk, Media Relations Officer, Western University, 519-661-2111 x85165, or on mobile at 519-318-0657 and deb.vanbrenk@uwo.ca

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Into The Gray Zone, by Adrian Owen, is published by Simon & Schuster
Adrian Owen, Canadian Excellence Research Chair in Cognitive Neuroscience and Imaging at Western University, has demonstrated that functional neuroimaging can be used to detect awareness in patients previously thought to be in a vegetative, non-aware state.
Adrian Owen, Canadian Excellence Research Chair in Cognitive Neuroscience and Imaging at Western University