Therapies to Restore Consciousness in Patients with Severe Brain Injuries: A Gap Analysis and Future Directions

the Curing Coma Campaign and its contributing members

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Scopus citations


Background/Objective: For patients with disorders of consciousness (DoC) and their families, the search for new therapies has been a source of hope and frustration. Almost all clinical trials in patients with DoC have been limited by small sample sizes, lack of placebo groups, and use of heterogeneous outcome measures. As a result, few therapies have strong evidence to support their use; amantadine is the only therapy recommended by current clinical guidelines, specifically for patients with DoC caused by severe traumatic brain injury. To foster and advance development of consciousness-promoting therapies for patients with DoC, the Curing Coma Campaign convened a Coma Science Work Group to perform a gap analysis. Methods: We consider five classes of therapies: (1) pharmacologic; (2) electromagnetic; (3) mechanical; (4) sensory; and (5) regenerative. For each class of therapy, we summarize the state of the science, identify gaps in knowledge, and suggest future directions for therapy development. Results: Knowledge gaps in all five therapeutic classes can be attributed to the lack of: (1) a unifying conceptual framework for evaluating therapeutic mechanisms of action; (2) large-scale randomized controlled trials; and (3) pharmacodynamic biomarkers that measure subclinical therapeutic effects in early-phase trials. To address these gaps, we propose a precision medicine approach in which clinical trials selectively enroll patients based upon their physiological receptivity to targeted therapies, and therapeutic effects are measured by complementary behavioral, neuroimaging, and electrophysiologic endpoints. Conclusions: This personalized approach can be realized through rigorous clinical trial design and international collaboration, both of which will be essential for advancing the development of new therapies and ultimately improving the lives of patients with DoC.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)68-85
Number of pages18
JournalNeurocritical Care
StatePublished - Jul 2021


  • Coma
  • Consciousness
  • Disorders of consciousness
  • Gap analysis
  • Precision medicine

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Critical Care and Intensive Care Medicine
  • Clinical Neurology


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