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15-11-2016 | Neurology | News | Article

News in brief

Brain implant allows paralyzed ALS patient to communicate

medwireNews: Researchers have developed a brain implant that has enabled a paralyzed, locked-in patient with late-stage amyotropic lateral sclerosis to communicate through a speech computer using her mind.

Electrodes implanted over the motor cortex pick up brain signals when the woman attempts to move her right hand to type letters on a computer screen. These are received by a transmitter placed subcutaneously in the left side of the thorax which then transmits them wirelessly actuating a speech computer.

In the 262 days following surgery, the patient received training with the device and after 168 days started to use it at home multiple times a week with minimal assistance, correctly communicating 89% of the time.

The mental effort required improved from an initial rating of 5, on a scale of 1–5, to a mean of 2.8. And while spelling initially took 52 seconds per letter, this improved to 33 seconds per letter with word prediction.

Satisfaction levels were high and similar to those with an eye tracker, with the added benefit that the system could be used outside, where lighting conditions can sometimes make eye tracking impossible.

“These results show that the system is capable of meeting the requirements for independent communication,” conclude Nick Ramsey (University Medical Center Utrecht, the Netherlands) and co-authors in The New England Journal of Medicine.

Factors that may limit its use by certain patients include cortical damage, cognitive impairment, and unsupportive caregiving.

By Lucy Piper

medwireNews is an independent medical news service provided by Springer Healthcare Limited. © Springer Healthcare Ltd; 2016