Tech UPTechnologyA patient with advanced ALS manages to communicate through...

A patient with advanced ALS manages to communicate through a brain implant

A patient with ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) with total paralysis due to the progression of the disease, who cannot even move his eyes, has been able to “talk” with his family, to be able to communicate thanks to a brain implant (brain interface -machine) that allows you to control a keyboard with your mind.

This disorder, also known as motor neuron disease, affects the brain and the nerves that control movement. And, over time, it can cause paralysis and patients become “trapped” in a condition called pseudocoma in which people are aware of and aware of the world around them, but unable to move or speak.

The scientists, publishing their landmark study in the journal Nature Communications, say the new communication method, powered by their thoughts, may offer a window of hope to thousands of people around the world living with this crippling condition .

 

What is a brain-machine interface?

This is a system that captures brain signals, analyzes them, and then converts them into commands that can be transmitted through an output device. It’s precisely like Elon Musk’s Neuralink system, which has allowed experimental monkeys to play computer games with just their minds, without using a controller . In fact, the main objective of this innovative technology is to improve the quality of life of people who have lost critical body functions due to illness or accident.

Initially, the scientists set up the non-invasive brain-machine interface that enabled communication with the remaining eye movement it had. But when the patient also lost the ability to move his eyes, his team implanted the microelectrode device in his brain as part of the brain-machine interface.

 

Learning to “talk” to the brain

In essence, the system works by using “auditory neurofeedback,” which means that the patient has to “match” the frequency of their brain waves to a certain pitch, word, or phrase (for 500 milliseconds). Learning to generate brain activity that could alter the frequency of a sound wave, through a computer program, the patient applied this same strategy to control a spelling program, which allowed him to select letters one at a time to form words and phrases at an average rate of about one character per minute.

Although it is a slow communication and it is not a system that allows a lot of complexity in communication, the alternative is unparalleled.

As a curiosity, one of his first requests was that the doctors bring him a beer. He also talked to his family, and although the patient is a native German speaker, on days when he has English-speaking visitors, he would spell for them in English.

“Successful communication has been previously demonstrated with BCI in people with paralysis. But, to our knowledge, ours is the first study to achieve communication from someone who has no remaining voluntary movement and therefore for whom the BCI is now the only means of communication”, comments Jonas Zimmerman, leader of the study. , it’s a statement.

World-renowned physicist Stephen Hawking also suffered from ALS and managed to overcome the limited life expectancy that many people have, surviving to the age of 76. The system is far from perfect, but having achieved this proof of concept , the researchers will explore the potential of more advanced systems for the great leap in quality of life they can bring to these patients.

 

Referencia: Chaudhary, U., Vlachos, I., Zimmermann, J.B. et al. Spelling interface using intracortical signals in a completely locked-in patient enabled via auditory neurofeedback training. Nature Communications 13, 1236 (2022). DOI: https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-022-28859-8

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