A 36-year-old man with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) has been able to communicate after months of being unable even to move his eyes.
Using the brain implant, the man was able to compose sentences at a rate of one character per minute. He was able to transcribe the message, “I love my cool son.”
The technology is still in its infancy. It took three months of trial and error before the implant could even measure a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ response when presented with a letter.
After some success, it took three weeks for the patient to produce entire sentences. A year later, the man was able to make dozens of sentences. The technology allowed him to ask for his head to be in a different position when he had visitors.
A detailed report of the research was published in Nature Communications. The article is titled, “Spelling interface using intracortical signals in a completely locked-in patient enabled via auditory neurofeedback training.”
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The Independent reported comments by Dr. Jonas Zimmerman, a senior neuroscientist at the Wyss Center.
“Ours is the first study to achieve communication by someone who has no remaining voluntary movement and hence for whom the BCI is now the sole means of communication,” said Dr Jonas Zimmermann, a senior neuroscientist at the Wyss Center.
“This study answers a long-standing question about whether people with complete locked-in syndrome – who have lost all voluntary muscle control, including movement of the eyes or mouth – also lose the ability of their brain to generate commands for communication.”
Dr. Edward Chang, the Chair of Neuro Surgery at UCSF, gave an interview on the developments of this breakthrough technology.
“What we have done is that we demonstrated that it is possible to decode from brain activity, for words from the brain of a patient who has been paralized and suffered a stroke over 15 years ago. And allowed him to restore a small set of words and a small vocabulary to help restore communication.
All of us have this part of the brain that controls the muscles of the vocal tract. Every time you speak, the lips, tongue, jaw, larinx, are controled by this one part of the brain called the sensory motor cortex. And in some people who are paralized, especially in parts of the brain like the brain stem, those signals can’t get out to the muscles of the body or to the face. And in this particular situation, to speak.
So we developed a device technology that can record from the surface of the brain, directly from the surface, from many spots. In particlar, 128 channels or 128 particular spots over that part of the brain. And try to read out those signals from that part of the brain to try to decode what someone is trying to say even though they are paralized.”
I’m so happy to see that technology like this can give a voice to those who have no voice. Hopefully, the technology will advance quickly so that others suffering from paralysis will be able to have their voices heard as well!