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article imageInnovative brain implant helps paralyzed people to text

By Tim Sandle     Sep 3, 2017 in Science
Neurosurgeons, teaming up with engineers, have created a device that allows paralyzed patients to communicate their thoughts into speech. The brain controlled device has come out of a research center at Stanford University.
Although the device is still at the experimental stage, the success reported for three patients means that the research towards a commercial product is moving closer to realization. The development of the device was led by Jaimie Henderson and Krishna Shenoy and it takes the form of a brain-computer interface. Most brain-computer interface research has focused on neuroprosthetics applications that aim at restoring damaged hearing, sight and movement.
The device has been tested out in a clinical trial. The device itself is small, resembling the size of a tablet, and it has taken some fifteen years of research. The device, once implanted into the brain of a person, functions to record signals from the motor cortex. The motor cortex is the region of the cerebral cortex involved in the planning, control, and execution of voluntary movements. This region is the main contributor to generating neural impulses that pass down to the spinal cord and control the execution of movement.
Once recorded by the implant, the signals are transported to a computer. The signals are interpreted by algorithms and used to move a cursor to characters on a keyboard. The final result is the production of text: in other words, the paralyzed patient can compose a text messages based on their thoughts. The text message can then either be displayed on a screen, or ‘sent’ like any other conventional message.
The following video explains more about the tehcnology:
In an interview with Stanford, one of the researchers, Dr. Krishna Shenoy explains his motivation with the project: “My mother’s father suffered from multiple sclerosis for around 40 years. He was wheelchair-bound. It was not like I ever had a conscious epiphany, ‘I want to help him,’ but I think it subconsciously influenced me greatly.
With the trials, QMed reports, each patient was able to master the technique relatively quickly with messages composed fairly rapidly and the messages were intelligible by the recipients. Long-term it is hoped that the device will be able to control both tablets and smartphones.
Further development is required before the implant can be made available to the medical sector. Once it is ready it should change how paralysis and nervous system disorders are cared for. The research is described in the journal eLife under the heading “High performance communication by people with paralysis using an intracortical brain-computer interface.”
More about Paralysis, Patient, Text, Communication, Neuroscience
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