Child singer in coma after inhaling helium on Japan TV

TOKYO (AFP) - A 12-year-old member of a Japanese pop group lapsed into a coma after inhaling helium for a stunt on a television show, a broadcaster said Thursday.

The girl is part of 3B Junior, a 25-strong collective of 10-to-16-year-olds, and was one of five youngsters taking part in the recording of a variety show on January 28, a spokesman for TV Asahi said.

She was inhaling helium from a cannister as part of a game that involved changing her voice, when she fell unconscious.

She was rushed to a Tokyo hospital, where local media reported she was found to have suffered an embolism in the blood supply to her brain.

"There are signs of recovery, but she is still not fully fit," the Asahi spokesman told AFP on Thursday.

Despite her public status, her name was not revealed because she is a minor.

TV Asahi has apologised for the incident and said an internal probe into the case was under way.

The cannister from which she inhaled the gas was marked for adult use only, the channel said.

Local media said police had also launched an investigation on suspicion of professional negligence resulting in injury.

In the psychedelic bubblegum world of Japanese television, hundreds of largely talent-free celebrities compete for airtime on shows that sometimes involve dangerous or humiliating tasks.

In 2012 a popular comedian broke his back when he jumped into a swimming pool as part of a programme.

Inhaling helium is a common party trick but previous deaths have been recorded. The UK's Public Health Agency warns that "breathing in helium... deprives vital organs of essential oxygen" and can can cause "dizziness, headache and suffocation".