Let’s hope miraculous ‘awakenings’ of 40-year coma patients are permanent

In 1973, the neurologist Oliver Sacks published his remarkable book, Awakenings, which was a chronicle of his treatment of patients trapped in catatonia, often for decades, and who were awakened by the drug levodopa, or L-dopa, which is synthesised in the brain into dopamine.

The book was made into a film with Robin Williams as the doctor (or Sacks) and Robert De Niro as the patient Leonard.

Sacks’ use of L-dopa produced remarkable results, with patients coming out of comas they had been in for most of their lives, although the results were not always lasting.

The real-life Leonard woke after 30 years but the effect faded and six weeks later he slipped back into the vegetative state.

And even when the responses to the drug were positive, patients weren’t always able to cope with the consequences.

Rose R was struck by sleeping sickness at the age of 21 and more than 40 years later awoke to find her world of 1926 had vanished.

She remained rooted in the 1920s and, as if the time gap was beyond her comprehension, stopped responding to L-dopa.

Sacks’s second book, The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat, is just as remarkable, featuring 24 essays about neurological conditions including the patient Dr P after whom the book its title and who had visual agnosia – a condition which made him unable to recognise objects or to distinguish

faces.

We know very little about how the brain works, not even how general anaesthetics work on it and produce unconsciousness.

Now, new research by four Cambridge University scientists, who write about it in online journal The Conversation, say that dopamine has a central role in maintaining our consciousness and that the creation of drugs which act on it, like L-dopa, will bring better treatments of consciousness disorders.

If so, Sacks’s miraculous ‘awakenings’ will hopefully be permanent.

Non-gender ID

You couldn’t make it up Part One. Another crazy casualty in the gender wars – or should that be non-gender wars.

A man who was convicted of attacking his female partner applied to take part in a Scottish Government-approved domestic abuse rehabilitation programme called the Caledonian System – probably so that would mitigate his sentence. However, his partner, a biological woman, then identified herself as non-gender (how can you be non-gender?). And because the system is specifically for men attacking women, he was refused admission.

This absurdity defies satire. The programme is clearly badly conceived and rigidly implemented, makes a complete nonsense of the law, and should be torn up and replaced with something fit for purpose, as lawyers like to put it.

Urine trouble

YOU couldn’t make it up Part Two. Well, the infamous Russian anti-doping laboratory based in Sochi did.

It was at the centre of one of the most elaborate cheating scandal in sports history and where Dr Grigory Rodchenkov, the chemist who ran it and who later became a whistleblower, tampered with more than 100 urine samples of doping Russian athletes and gave them clean bills of health.

This led to the international ban on Russia competing in athletics.

But a solution was quickly found. They could call themselves something different – in these Olympics the Russian Olympic Committee – and still compete.

So far, there have been no positive doping tests at the Tokyo Olympics – at least not that we know of – which may be one reason why records have not been shattered in these Games in the way they used to be. Of course, the pandemic may have had something to do with it too.

Rodchenkov didn’t just provide clean samples for dirty ones – he would administer a cocktail of drugs, one of which, The Duchess, had three anabolic steroids mixed with whisky for men and martini for women.

It’s fitting, then, that the Sochi lab has become a bar, La Punta, which serves drug-themed cocktails in commemoration of the old days and ways. There’s Meldonium, an

absinthe-based cocktail named after

the performance-enhancing drug.

Or the B Sample, the name of the second drug test, which is tequila, sambuca and tabasco sauce. Fittingly, it’s yellow.

Mullet over

ONE thing these Tokyo Summer Olympics have demonstrated is that the national anthem is the worst of them all. It’s a dirge, like a 45rpm record played at 33rpm, performed by a band on ketamine.

It should be replaced by something less reverential and upbeat. Like National S***e Day by Half Man Half Biscuit, with the memorable refrain, “There’s a man with a mullet going mad with a mallet in Millets”.

Chinch you been gone

THERE’S a bit of a stushie going on between Rangers Football Club and the blazers of the SPFL, the Scottish Professional Football League bosses. It’s about sponsorship of the Premiership by the used car conglomerate cinch, a company which believes in capital, if not in using one in its name.

The deal is for £8 million over five years – a fairly piddling amount – which gets cinch its name on the league and on clubs’ shirts, surrounds and general paraphernalia. Or not. Because Rangers have said no.

It’s not because there’s no room on the jerseys or the Ibrox walls although there are presently 29 other sponsors – everything from betting to chocolate to perfumes – but because, it’s claimed, doing so would breach an existing contract.

Just what that contract is will surely emerge in due course, but even those who have been in a closed order recently will know that the Rangers chairman Douglas Park, a man perhaps named after a former Hamilton leisure facility, in his day job is a major seller of used cars and new ones too.

It would be difficult for the SPFL to find a sponsor that doesn’t conflict with the multifarious deals the club has struck.

It may be that with the ink barely dry on the contract, cinch will pull out. As the club has pointed out, half a million will go in agents’ fees and while Scottish football may not be a global attraction, the money cinch has paid wouldn’t net a middling midfielder.

The company is owned by the private equity company TDR, which is one of the places where the obscenely wealthy put their cash.

In October last year, it bought Asda for £6.8 billion, as part of a consortium with Zuber and Mohsin Issa, with whom it owns the EG Group, or Euro Garages.

You’ll have seen the cinch ads on TV, with Rylan Clark-Neal. TDR is also the ultimate owner of We Buy Any Car, featuring Phillip Schofield, and it’s that company which values your car if you want a trade in.

So the standoff between Rangers and the SPL continues. I understand the fans have a new song about it, “cinch you be gone, cinch you be gone/I’m outta my head, can’t take it …”

The Herald Scotland

The Herald Scotland

The Herald is a Scottish broadsheet newspaper founded in 1783. The Herald is the longest running national newspaper in the world and is the eighth oldest daily paper in the world. The title was simplified from The Glasgow Herald in 1992