The second phase of the AWARE study is outlined as a two year observational study of 900 – 1500 patients. This is a shorter study than the first phase, which lasted four years, and no doubt this will be welcomed in most quarters who are following the project. The expected study pool of patients is of course significantly smaller, which is possibly surprising given the limited results of the first phase study.
In the first phase, only 2 patients out of the 2000 pool claimed to have had an apparent veridical OBE recall. Cutting the study pool in half makes the chance of another such case less likely. Dr Parnia himself said of the results back then “it was not possible to absolutely prove the reality or meaning of patients’ experiences and claims of awareness due to the very low incidence of explicit recall……and more work is needed in this area.”
However, reading the UKCRN outline, the focus appears to be relaxed more onto the 10% of survivors with general apparent memories / experiences, rather than just the veridical cases.
Now at first to me, this appears to be going off target as a research endeavour, for surely it is only the apparently veridical OBEs that can corroborated to substantiate any discovery. But then, the outline goes on to suggest brain oxygen levels as a dimension to be explored, which as a piece of background data to NDEs, does make the specifics of recollection less important in this phase of study.
That is not to say that OBEs are not still being watched out for, because visual stimuli are still going to play a part in the experiment environment.
The monitoring of brain oxygen levels is going to play a key role. I believe a number of factors have determined this as a path to follow. Monitoring oxygen will at least rule in or out this aspect as a factor, in both survivability and memory recollection. It could lead to a question or reanalysis of brain functionality in compromised blood flow / cardiac arrest circumstances, for some people. Also, there may be other details less publicly discussed in the first study that led to a suggestion of greater oxygen in the brains of the 10% that remembered varying experiences. Dr Parnia after the publication of the first study results reasserted that “the brain typically ceases functioning within 20 – 30 seconds of the heart stopping and doesn’t resume again until the heart has been restarted.” The brain oxygen monitoring would appear to be looking for the possibility of exceptions to this.
The visual stimuli of projecting upward facing random images will continue, but this time in a portable manner, so as to suit the mobile location nature of cardiac arrest events. It is stated that a tablet device will be used to do this. I would hope that a large screen tablet will be used, so as to gain a better chance of images being ‘seen’, with the images both vivid and simple in nature.
The post event and recovery interviews with patients will be audio recorded. It was unclear as to whether this was done in the first study. Real time recording of data like this is I believe important for future peer analysis and comparison. It helps take the study results away from being purely anecdotal.
There is no mention of any attempt to record the actual arrest events in a similar manner. I believe if this could be done, the data from the study in the future would hold considerably more value, again for peer analysis and data credibility. There would indeed be an amount of administrative legal preparation and authority agreement required to do this, but it should be noted that this has in fact on numerous occasions been done before. Recording (both audio and video) of emergency resuscitation situations is carried out from time to time by various hospitals and institutes for medical / professional overview and improvement studies. An example of the planning documentation of such recording can be seen here: http://accs.wustl.edu/en/~/media/Files/ACCS/Trauma-Resuscitation-Recording-2014.ashx
In conclusion, the study as it goes on can only positively contribute to the data pool for studying near death experiences. The brain oxygen analysis may or may not lead to further understanding of brain viability during cardiac arrest. Another veridical recall is a real possibility in the 1000+ monitored cases, and who knows, that ever elusive visual recall may yet be found.
I maintain my belief that this is the first and only study of it’s kind that actively monitors near death situations, subsequently exploring patient outcomes and experiences. The AWARE team are to be congratulated and supported in carrying on with this endeavour.
“The AWARE study researchers are to be congratulated on a fascinating study that will open the door to more extensive research into what happens when we die” (Dr Jerry Nolan, Editor-in-chief of Resuscitation Journal)
(All quotes from : University of Southampton. “Near-death experiences? Results of the world’s largest medical study of the human mind and consciousness at time of death.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 7 October 2014. http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/10/141007092108.htm)
UKCRN outline publication : http://public.ukcrn.org.uk/Search/StudyDetail.aspx?StudyID=17129
Incidentally, the UKCRN publication of the AWARE 2 proposal is the only such information I have come across. I have heard or seen no other news or commentary regarding this second phase of the study. As to when and if this has started yet is not known. (EDIT: Please note as of late 2016 the details of this study outline have been removed and the link is no longer valid. There is a new official briefing page on the NHS Research portal http://www.hra.nhs.uk/news/research-summaries/aware-ii).