Stony Brook Mind/Brain Lecture Series


14th Annual Lecture


Guest Lecturer:

Nicholas D. Schiff, M. D.

Director, Laboratory of Cognitive Neuromodulation, Weill Cornell Medical Center, NY




Understanding the Recovery of Consciousness

How neuroscience is changing our understanding of recovery of consciousness after brain injuries


Monday, March 15, 2010

4:30 PM

Staller Center for the Arts, Main Stage

Stony Brook University (Main Campus), Stony Brook, NY, and via live webcast on the day of the event

A free presentation, intended for a general audience. 

·         View the video replay of Dr. Nicholas Schiff's 2010 Swartz Foundation Mind/Brain Lecture on YouTube

·         Promotional Video: Nicholas Schiff Mind/Brain 2010 Lecture

·         Download the poster: Nicholas Schiff Mind/Brain 2010 Lecture

·         Download the event brochure: Nicholas Schiff Mind/Brain 2010 Lecture

·         Press Release

Despite major advances in neuroscience, recovery of consciousness after brain injury remains poorly understood. At the origin of this challenge is the surprising degree of uncertainty of underlying brain function that may be present when confronted with a patient at the bedside with very limited or even no overt signs of behavioral responsiveness. Across the range of behaviorally defined states, from vegetative state (no evidence of self or environmental awareness), minimally conscious state (at least some evidence of awareness), and up to but not including patients in locked-in state (full consciousness with no motor control), there are many patients whose level of consciousness we cannot at present confidently assess. This state of current scientific knowledge has profound implications for tracking recovery after brain injury, for applying treatments and formulating prognoses, as well as implications for measuring effects of new therapeutic inventions in the acute phase of treatment and recovery


We will review recent studies that have expanded our understanding of the potential for late recovery of substantial cognitive function, and provide emerging insight into possible biological mechanisms at a ‘circuit-level’ underlying recovery of consciousness. In this presentation, we will review several recent findings from studies of recovery of brain function after severe injuries. The discussion will focus on novel neuroimaging paradigms that allow assessment of command following and communication in absence of overt behavior, observations of marked behavioral improvements following pharmacological interventions, and the results of a study demonstrating behavioral improvements with central thalamic stimulation in a single severely brain-injured human subject who had remained in the minimally conscious state (MCS) for 6 years. Collectively, these experimental and clinical data support further research to develop diagnostic and investigational therapeutic approaches at the ‘circuit-level’ to better address the problem of recovery of consciousness after severe brain injury.  



Dr. Schiff is a physician-scientist with expertise in neurological disorders of consciousness.   He is Associate Professor in the Department of Neurology and Neuroscience, Department of Public Health, and in the Graduate Program in Neuroscience at Weill Cornell Medical College. He directs the Laboratory of Cognitive Neuromodulation at Weill Cornell, is Adjunct Faculty at the Rockefeller University, and is a diplomat of the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology.


Dr. Schiff’s research efforts bridge basic neuroscience and clinical investigative studies of the pathophysiology of impaired consciousness using state-of-the art neuroimaging and neurophysiologic techniques. This research program has provided new understanding of cerebral activity in severely brain injured-patients. Most recently, Dr. Schiff and colleagues have taken insights into the neurophysiological mechanisms of arousal regulation and of deep brain electrical stimulation techniques to demonstrate evidence that long-lasting, severe cognitive disability may be influenced by modulation of the central thalamus. This work is an important foundation for developing further understanding of both the mechanisms of recovery of consciousness and basic mechanisms underlying consciousness in the human brain.


Dr. Schiff is an elected member of the American Neurological Association and the recipient of several awards, including the 2007 Research Award for Innovation in Neuroscience from the Society for Neuroscience. Dr. Schiff's research is currently supported by the NIH-NICHD, NIH-NINDS, NEI-NIDDR, private foundations (The Jerold B. Katz Foundation, James S. McDonnell Foundation, and Swartz Foundation), and industry (IntElect Medical, Inc).



Additional Information:


Nicholas Schiff, M.D.

The 2008 Time 100: Nicholas Schiff


Charlie Rose – Nicholas Schiff interview


Dr. Nicholas Schiff of Weill Cornell Discusses "The Challenge of Detecting Consciousness in Severely Brain-Injured Persons"


The 100 People Who Are Changing America (The RS100, Rolling Stone Magazine) - #99: Dr. Nicholas D. Schiff


Dr. Nicholas Schiff Receives Research Award for Innovation in Neuroscience


Man’s Brain Rewired Itself after Crash


Brain, Heal Thyself – CBS Evening News


New Goalpost for Awareness? – The Dana Foundation


Behavioural improvements with thalamic stimulation after severe traumatic brain injury (Nature 448, 600-603, 2 August 2007)


Reawakening the Dormant Mind (Discover Magazine, Dec. 12, 2007)


Trapped 'coma' man: How was he misdiagnosed?


Recovery of consciousness after brain injury: a mesocircuit hypothesis (article in press, available online Dec. 1, 2009)




Event home pages:

The Swartz Foundation – Mind/Brain Lecture Series Home Page


Stony Brook University Mind/Brain Lecture Series Home Page


Directions to Stony Brook University


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