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  • Moss Rehabilitation Research Institute Launches Largest Study to Date to Explore “Awakening” Effects of Common Sleep Drug on Vegetative Patients

    Published: 05/07/2012

    Philadelphia – August 31, 2009 – Moss Rehabilitation Research Institute (MRRI), the research arm of MossRehab, one of the world’s leading clinical rehabilitation centers, has launched an ambitious research study to investigate how the sleep drug zolpidem might restore consciousness for patients in the vegetative state.

    Led by John Whyte, MD, PhD, Director of MRRI, the new research study is the largest and most rigorously designed study to date that will examine zolpidem as a promising possibility for patients with disorders of consciousness.

    After severe brain injury, some patients remain permanently unconscious, a condition know as the vegetative state, for which no proven treatment exists. However, there are encouraging results that demonstrate that the common sleep aid zolpidem (originally marketed as Ambien® but now available generically) can restore consciousness to patients who have been in this state for several years.

    Dr. Whyte and his team initially conducted a small pilot study, based on reports of “miraculous” results among patients with prolonged unconsciousness. In the study of 15 individuals was a male patient in his 20’s, who had been rendered unconscious as a result of a car accident four years earlier. The patient could open and close his eyes and move his limbs, but he showed no real awareness of things around him and only stared vacantly. In the pilot study, Dr. Whyte and his team administered zolpidem to this patient, with excellent results: after a single dose of the drug, but not after an identical appearing placebo, the patient was able to respond to commands to move his leg, and was observed to follow other people’s movements with his eyes and even wave goodbye. (The other participants showed no such effects.)

    Based on this success, the new MRRI study, which is federally funded, will be conducted over three years and seeks to enroll about 100 patients, from all over the country, who are in a vegetative or minimally conscious state due to brain injury. The study will examine not just how many people respond to the drug but why the drug has such a dramatic effect on some patients but not others and just how the drug is working. Dr. Whyte and his colleagues theorize that the drug may turn off brain cells that are preventing other parts of the brain from working.

    “For medical research, this study enables us to look more closely at whether or not there is a part of the brain that has the ability to allow a person in a vegetative state to regain consciousness and start functioning again,” said Dr. Whyte. “For caregivers of patients whose vegetative states were deemed permanent, this research may offer hope and a way to reconnect with loved ones.”

    The study is actively seeking participants; those interested in possibly enrolling a patient or obtaining more information should contact Moss Rehabilitation Research Institute at 215-663-6872 or participants@einstein.eduThis e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it .

    Founded in 1992 under the leadership of Dr. Whyte, the Moss Rehabilitation Research Institute has conducted a wide range of research projects in a variety of clinical areas, with a particular emphasis on outcomes related to traumatic brain injury and on rehabilitation of disorders of skilled action, consciousness, language, and attention.

    About MossRehab
    A division of Einstein Healthcare Network, MossRehab has a worldwide reputation for excellence in rehabilitation research and therapy.  MossRehab has repeatedly been recognized by U.S. News & World Report as one of “America’s Best” rehabilitation centers. MossRehab treats patients with complex physical needs related to brain injury, spinal cord injury, stroke and musculoskeletal disorders and also provides comprehensive treatment for orthopedic and sports-related injuries or conditions; hand trauma, amputation and neurological diseases. MossRehab offers unparalleled experience, caring and compassionate staff, and a clinical and research staff that includes some of the world’s foremost experts in rehabilitation medicine. Visit for more information.

    About Einstein Healthcare Network
    Einstein Healthcare Network is a 1,200 bed integrated delivery network with nearly 7,500 employees serving the communities of North Philadelphia and Montgomery County, PA. The network’s primary location, Einstein Medical Center, is the largest independent academic medical center in the Delaware Valley. The Einstein network also provides a comprehensive range of healthcare services through the Einstein Medical Center Elkins Park hospital campus, MossRehab, Belmont Behavioral Health, Einstein at Germantown, Willow Terrace (a nursing home), Willowcrest (a center for subacute care), outpatient facilities such as Center One and Einstein Neighborhood Healthcare, and a network of primary care and specialist practices throughout the community. For more information, visit or call 1-800-EINSTEIN.

    Media Contact:
    Heather Newcomb
    (215) 456-6734

  • Communications Team