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New tool peeks into brain to measure consciousness

It can be hard for doctors to tell if someone who is severely brain injured and not responding has any lingering awareness. Now researchers have created a tool to peek inside the brain and measure varying levels of consciousness.

The work reported Wednesday is highly experimental, not ready for bedside use yet. But if offers the hope that one day, doctors might track consciousness nearly as easily as they check blood pressure.

How it works: A magnetic pulse stimulates the brain. The resulting waves of electrical activity are measured and given a score. More complex signatures of brain activity mean more consciousness and a higher score. Researchers found a clear range with tests on 32 healthy people who were awake, asleep or anesthetized and on 20 people with brain injuries.