On 14 August, the Science Translational Medicine journal revealed that a team of American and European scientists had just developed a strategy for quantifying the level of consciousness in patients incapable of communicating because of an anaesthetic or coma. Traditionally, doctors have evaluated levels of consciousness in these patients "by assessing [their] ability […] to respond to external commands". In order to this, doctors ask patients "to open their eyes or press the hand of the person holding their hand". The extent of coma differs from one person to the next: patients can be "completely unconscious, in an almost vegetative state" or, in an intermediate, less serious condition in which they "may be aware of external stimuli but cannot move or talk".
This technique has been tested on "subjects who are awake, sleeping or chemically anaesthetised as well as coma patients whose condition is well known to doctors". Consistent results have been obtained.