A Brain-Implant That Allows Paralysed Woman Communicate
Science & Tech / /
A paralyse 58-year-old woman from the Netherlands is the first that successfully uses a brain implant that helps her communicate using nothing but her thoughts.
This new implant is the first to be used in person’s daily life. It is a brain-computer interface that helps patients spelling out words and sentences in communication with people in day-to-day life, on their own, without any additional devices and not relying on any kind of physical movements.
The woman was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) after what her nerve cells completely gave way. Two years later she went from healthy to incapable of breathing independently. Thanks to the ability to move her eyes that remained intact, she is capable of using a system that tracks her eye movements, that allows her communicate by selecting certain letters on a computer screen and form words and sentences.
According to the report by New Scientist, these devices work by reading brain activity and translating it into a signal that can control a computer or a robotic limb. Until now it has been difficult to make these devices fit into people’s everyday lives. But now they do not tend to need supervision by a team of experts on a daily basis, and on the other side are not so complex and can work wirelessly.
The device uses two electrodes placed on the surface of the brain, right underneath the skull. As the electrodes notice the brain activity, a signal is fed through a wire to a small transmitter, which is implanted under the skin of the chests. This device then wirelessly sends a signal to an external computer program, which transforms it into a simple mouse click. Other software installed on the computer device can allow the click to be used for various actions despite making sentences.
According to Science Alert report, when the patient watches the screen, she sees a square that is manipulated by her thoughts, moving over letters. Once the square has landed on a letter she wants to pick, she imagines moving her right hand to touch the letter. She obviously is not able to move her hand, but her brain still produces the same signal that it would if she was capable, and the electrodes pass this signal on to the transmitter, which than passes on to the computer program.
The patient volunteered to have the system implanted last year, and in just six months of training, she can use the system with 95% accuracy. Surely it requires a lot of effort since at first it took her 50 seconds to select a single letter, which she can now do it in 20 seconds. The big plus is that this device is now making her more confident communicating outside in the public.