The AWARE (AWAreness during REsuscitation) study is a long-term multidisciplinary collaboration between international scientists and physicians, begun in 2008, that aims to study the relationship between consciousness and the brain in patients who undergo cardiac arrest and clinical death. Led by Dr. Sam Parnia, the AWARE project is working with more than 25 major medical centers throughout Europe, Canada, and the United States to investigate the dying process and what we can learn about the fate of consciousness at this time.
One of the most publicised aspects of the AWARE study is the testing of claims of 'veridical out-of-body experiences' during near-death experiences: that is, people claiming to be able to see and hear during cardiac arrest from a point outside their body. The project is investigating these claims by placing randomly generated images within hospital rooms that are not visible unless viewed from specific vantage points above, to see if any near-death experiencers can correctly report back the target image 'seen' during an OBE. To quote Dr Sam Parnia: "If we can objectively verify these claims, the results would bear profound implications not only for the scientific community, but for the way in which we understand and relate to life and death as a society.”
As such, there has been great interest in the project, not least as to whether any targets have been reported back correctly. And not surprisingly, the researchers involved have so far been reticent to share their data before the testing has been completed. But due to the high level of interest, the Horizon Research Foundation has issued an update directly from the research team. Those hoping for something exciting will however be disappointed: the study "is progressing well", but the results so far "suggest more data and larger scale studies may be required", and "owing to the exploratory nature of this study they do not anticipate there to be an end in the near future… Instead the study is likely to evolve into further research projects downstream with time."
One would imagine that if there were any positive results, there might be excited whispers emanating from various corners, but it sounds very much like results have been ambiguous at best, if not completely negative. However, we'll just have to wait until the full data set is released, which they anticipate happening towards the end of this year.
Here's the text of the update:
Many people have sent requests to the Horizon website for more information regarding this project. We have to firstly point out that the Horizon Research Foundation is not directly involved with the running of the study and therefore does not have specific information regarding this. Nevertheless while we know it is not usual for investigators to release results of their studies until their research has been completed, we did nevertheless contact the investigators for a recent update in view of the numerous request that we have received.
The AWARE investigators have explained that owing to the exploratory nature of this study they do not anticipate there to be an end in the near future. Instead the study is likely to evolve into further research projects downstream with time. They are pleased to report the study is progressing well but have indicated that the results so far suggest more data and larger scale studies may be required. At this time, they anticipate being able to release the preliminary results obtained during the first five years of the study in September or October 2013 to mark the fifth anniversary of the launch of the study. This will be done through the appropriate scientific channels such as publications in scientific journals and possibly by means of a lecture, symposium or conference at a suitable venue if there is sufficient public interest. This would allow the data and results to be discussed in further detail.
The AWARE investigators asked us to thank everyone and expressed their deep appreciation for the interest shown in their work. They also apologized and mentioned that they will unfortunately not be able to release any more information until the conclusion of the study but promised to let us know when the results will be released so that we can also post them online for our readers.
Perhaps there may be a little more information in an upcoming book by Dr Sam Parnia, Erasing Death: The Science That Is Rewriting the Boundaries Between Life and Death, due for release on February 26. In the meantime, you can learn more about the AWARE study at the Horizon Research Foundation website.
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