Brain implant helps woman with locked in syndrome communicate

Thanks to a brain implant, a paralysed woman in the Netherlands with locked in syndrome as a result of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) has been able to speak again. The fully implanted brain-computer interface allows the patient to wirelessly transmit her thoughts to a computer. This is the first time a brain–computer interface has been used at home in a person’s day-to-day life that doesn’t require constant doctor supervision. The new implant help the patient to spell out words and sentences, and can be used anywhere.

“That is a international first,” neuroscientist and lead researcher Nick Ramsay, from the college scientific school Utrecht, advised CNN. “it is a completely implantable gadget that works at home without need for any professionals to make it paintings.”

The patient, Hanneke de Bruijne was diagnosed with ALS in 2008. Shortly, her nerve cells completely gave manner. Within the space of just years, she went from wholesome to incapable of respiration without a ventilator, and she should now not circulate or communicate.

ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, is a degenerative condition affecting the nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord that control voluntary muscle movement. Currently, there is no cure and most people die within three to five years from the beginning of symptoms.

In September last year, when de Bruijne was 58 and in the late stages of ALS, her only means of communication was through eye movements and blinks. At this point, she gave consent for researchers from the University Medical Centre (UMC) Utrecht to place an implant in her brain to help her communicate.

Testing was done over 28 weeks. de Bruijne and the team worked to get the settings of the implant in line with her brain signals. The doctors and engineers at UMC Utrecht installed a relatively simple brain implant called an electrocorticograph (ECoG). An ECoG is very similar to an EEG, only the electrical sensors are placed inside your skull against your brain, rather than externally on your scalp. Just below her collarbone, a transmitter was placed. The transmitter receives signals from the electrodes then amplifies them to wirelessly send them to a computer, which transmits the signals as speech.



Following the operation, doctors worked with de Bruijne to monitor and adjust the settings to get the system as accurate as possible. She can now use the speech computer at home on her own without the help of the team.

de Bruijne moves her fingers in her mind to operate the computer. The changes to the brain signals are relayed and converted into a mouse click. On a screen, there is an alphabet through which she can spell out words and sentences. It also gives her the ability to alert her caregiver that she needs assistance without relying on the caregiver noticing her eye movements. Such calls for help can be critical if her ventilator stops working properly or saliva is building up.

“This is a significant advance in our field,” Jonathan Brumberg, an assistant professor of speech-language-hearing at the University of Kansas, who was not connected with the work, told Reuters Health in an email. “It has significant advantages because the patient could use the device outdoors and with minimal dependency on others for setting up the device.”

Nick Ramsey, professor of cognitive neuroscience at UMC Utrecht said, “This is a major breakthrough in achieving autonomous communication among severely paralyzed patients whose paralysis is caused by either ALS, a cerebral haemorrhage 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.”

If the team can repeat their success in two more ALS patients, they hope to begin a larger-scale trial. “We hope that these results will stimulate research into more advanced implants, so that someday not only people with communication problems, but also people with paraplegia, for example, can be helped,” Ramsay said.

The work was presented at the annual Society for Neuroscience meeting by Nick Ramsey, a specialist in brain-computer interfaces (BCI) at the Brain Center Rudolf Magnus at UMC Utrecht in the Netherlands. The research paper is published this month in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Source: Business Insider

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