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Research Zone

An Interview with Dr Sam Parnia on the Aware Study 2010

In the upcoming months we will endeavor to bring you regular updates on the progress of interesting mainstream scientific research that has the potential to increase our understanding of the question of the nature of consciousness as well as the state of the human mind and its relationship with the brain during clinical death.

Many people have written to ask if results are available about the AWARE Study. In order to bring you an update, we contacted Dr Parnia who is the chief investigator of this research project. Here are some our questions and answers from our interview:

We have heard the study is actually quite difficult to carry out due to the nature of the work. What are some of these difficulties?

A. One of the major limitations of the study is the patient population. Basically, the patients who are being studied are survivors of cardiac arrest and as such are mostly extremely ill and in intensive care units. So their mortality rate is high and this means the number of survivors to interview is much smaller than we would like. And, of those who are resucitated and survive it is only a small portion owho will retain memories of their experience.

Who are you planning to interview?

A. The team is planning on interviewing all of the patients that have survived a cardiac arrest in the original participating hospitals across the UK (approximately 10-12 centres) over the next 12 months. The team estimate there should be approximately 700-1000 patients in this group. Once this preliminary set of data have been collected they intend to make the results available and to publish them in a scientific journal.

With this in mind, when do you foresee publication of results?

A. The earliest realistic estimate for this will be late 2011 or early 2012.

Out of the original participating hospitals you say there will be approximately 700-1000 patients to interview. According to your estimates, this will give approximately a 10-20% return of anyone having survived and having memories of their cardiac arrest. Depending on those results, a broader study will have to be done to support the findings.

Have you lined up more hospital centers in the UK? In the US? If so, can you tell us where and what sort of interest do they have in this AWARE Study?

A. Yes. The long term goal is to enroll many more hospitals. Recently, we have started working with three new US hospitals. Two are based in Atlanta, Georgia and are affiliated with Emory Medical Center, the other is the University of Virginia Medical Center. Soon, we will set up Stonybrook Medical Center and we are continuing conversations with others including in Brazil and France.

We know you traveled back and forth to UK this past year, setting up the interviewing process, can you describe that a bit? Who have you found to do the follow-up interviews and were there any challenges associated with this part of the research?

A. Again, if we figure there will be approximately 1000 patients who have survived, we will start with contacting them via letter and phone call inviting them to participate. If they are interested, they will partake in the interviewing process which will consist of a thorough screening interview undertaken by Research Nurses. The interview will cover the physical, cognitive and neurological aspects of the surviving patient's recovery.

Ninety percent of these former patients will have no "near death experience" to report, however, doing a broader study on their functioning after their illness is a very important part of the study as will be the 1 out of 10 who has had a "near death experience."

The 10 % who may have had a "near death experience" will be invited in for a face to face meeting and a more comprehensive interview by a core team.

The challenges associated with this research are the practical aspects of finding and following up with patients who have survived a very difficult medical emergency. Sometimes it's hard to find these survivors after they have been discharged from a hospital and then it's hard because they might be disabled from the experience.

Thank you Dr Parnia, we look forward to your further communication over 2011-2012.

We know that the investigators would like to expand the study to cover a cross cultural element and are seeking collaborators from India and other non Western nations. If you are a physician who has access to cardiac arrest patients in another country and may wish to collaborate please contact The Horizon Research Foundation and we will forward your message to the team.

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