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Brain Implant Lets ALS Patient Communicate, Operate a Computer With Her Mind

Nov 15, 2016 04:16 AM EST
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A team of researchers from the University Medical Center Utreacht has devised a way for locked-in ALS patients to communicate with other people. The technology uses a brain implant, which enables the patient to control a computer with his or her mind.
(Photo : China Photos/Getty Images)

A team of researchers from the University Medical Center Utreacht has devised a way for locked-in ALS patients to communicate with other people. The technology uses a brain implant, which enables the patient to control a computer with his or her mind.

The study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, tested the new technology to a locked-in ALS woman patient who can't speak or move due to her condition. The experts implanted electrodes in her brain, which immediately tracked brain activity. This will then let the ALS patient to wirelessly control a speech computer for communication.

The patient controls the speech computer through her mind by finger movement, which changes the brain signals detected by the electrodes. The said changes will then be converted to a mouse click, which she can use to spell out words in an alphabet on the computer screen. She can also delete and select a letter or a word.

The letters from the alphabet appears on the screen one by one, and the patient can select them through the brain-influenced mouse clicks.

"This is a major breakthrough in achieving autonomous communication among severely paralyzed patients whose paralysis is caused by either ALS, a cerebral hemorrhage or trauma. In effect, this patient has had a kind of remote control placed in her head, which enables her to operate a speech computer without the use of her muscles," said Professor Nick Ramsey from the UMC via Science Daily.

The doctors were able to implant the electrodes on the patient's brain through surgery, where they placed it via tiny holes in the skull. A transmitter, which amplifies the signal to the computer, was also implanted in her collarbone.

Despite the numerous research regarding the use of speech computers via the brain, this is the first case in the world that an ALS patient has actually succesfully communicated while at home.

 "We hope that these results will stimulate research into more advanced implants, so that some day not only people with communication problems, but also people with paraplegia, for example, can be helped," Ramsey concluded.

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