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HomeUncategorizedBrain implant allows fully paralyzed patient to communicate, Scientist proves

Brain implant allows fully paralyzed patient to communicate, Scientist proves

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  • A man who is unable to move or speak can now use his thoughts to generate words and sentences on a computer
  • A group of biological engineers have created a brain implant that has allowed a paralyzed man to communicate

Through a brain implant, a 34-year-old paralyzed man who had even lost the ability to move his eyes due to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is able to communicate again.

Per the New York Times, rather than the system tracking his eyes as it does with current-generation technology, the implant was able to detect the man imagining moving his eyes. It’s a significant neuroscience achievement that could allow others in a similar locked-in state to express themselves again — though it’s not a perfect solution and will need more work before it can help others.

The results of the 2020 experiment conducted by Ujwal Chaudhary, a since retired biomedical engineer then at the University of Tübingen, Germany and co-author of a study about the project published in the journal Nature Communications this week, came as a shock.

“I myself could not believe that this is possible,” Chaudhary told the Times.

When the patient first began communicating through the implant in his head, he had some specific demands.

“For food I want to have curry with potato then Bolognese and potato soup,” he reportedly spelled out letter by letter, using a mental system of grouped letters.

Despite their lofty claims, Chaudhary and Niels Birbaumer, the study’s lead author and a former neuroscientist at the University of Tübingen, have a shaky track record.

According to the New York Times, the two neuroscientists previously conducted two similar experiments, but both studies were retracted after the German Research Foundation discovered they had not provided sufficient details of their analyses and made false statements.

“This work, like other work by Birbaumer, should be taken with a massive mountain of salt given his history,” Brendan Allison, researcher at the University of California San Diego, told the newspaper.

“This tells us that it’s possible,” says Edward Chang, a neurosurgeon at the University of California, San Francisco. “I think there’s a huge runway to make this better over time.”

Medics implanted two microchips, each measuring about 1.5mm across, in the patient’s motor cortex – the region at the top of the human brain that is responsible for controlling movement.

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Researchers then trained the man to imagine physical movements. They were taking this step to try and get a reliable signal from the brain. They would then try to translate this signal into some sort of a command. This had been successful in previous studies but not this time.

‘It works so effortlessly’

Ujwal Chaudhary and Niels Birbaumer then tried neurofeedback, which involves showing a person’s brain activity in real time so they can learn how to control it.

When the man’s brain’s implanted electrodes detected an increase in activity, a computer would play a rising audio tone. A decrease in brain activity would result in a descending tone.

According to the researchers, the man learned to control the frequency of the tone within two days.

Before his condition worsened, family members would hold up a grid of letters against a four-color background. Family members would point to each color section and row, and any eye movement would be interpreted as a “yes.”

The researchers developed software to simulate this technique. The man would hear a color’s words. For instance, “yellow” or “blue” to select a block of letters from which to choose.

He’d then hear individual letters and use a rising or descending tone to select or dismiss each one. According to the researchers, the man learned to communicate entire sentences in this manner.

“Boys, it works so effortlessly,” the man said, according to MIT Technology Review website.

It takes about a minute for the man to select each letter.

“Many times, I was with him until midnight, or past midnight,” said Chaudhary. “The last word was always ‘beer’.”

Jaimie Henderson, a neurosurgeon at Stanford University who was not involved in the work, called the study “really remarkable”.

“To me that’s a tremendous breakthrough and obviously quite meaningful for the research participant,” Henderson was quoted as saying.

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