First Home Brain Implant Allows Paralyzed Woman Communicate

Sunday, November 20, 2016 - 18:27

A brain-computer interface help a 58-year-old woman left paralyzed by amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS or Lou Gehrig's disease) to communicate by restoring some of her day-to-day functions.

As Engadget reports, while brain implants have been in development for years, this particular patient has become the first to make use of one at home and outside of a research or hospital setting.

Based on the treatment details published in the New England Journal of Medicine, a device called an electrocorticograph (ECoG) was installed directly on her brain. The ECoG electrodes pick up impulses normally associated with moving her right hand and then amplify and transmit those signals using a small device implanted in her chest.

A wireless receiver outside her body then converts the signals into data that can be used to control a table computer in front of her. In order to get the whole system working, the patient had to train her brain by playing Pong and whack-a-mole on the tablet, until she eventually could perform a "brain click" just by thinking about moving her right hand.

While the system is still slow -- Ars Technica reports it takes her about 20 seconds to click a letter from an on-screen keyboard -- the system is constantly being improved to add more useful functions like adjusting her thermostat or turning on the TV.

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