An incredible new piece of technology is hoping to give some sense of power back to people who are fully paralyzed and unable to communicate.
Researchers at the Wyss Center for Bio and Neuroengineering in Switzerland have developed a highly advanced piece of headgear that reads a person’s mind, so to speak. The device, which looks similar to a swimming cap, covers the skull and measures changes to the blood-oxygen levels and electrical activity in the brain. Patients with locked-in syndrome (LIS), a disease that paralyzes the entire body, including the eyes and eyelids, can use the headgear to answer “yes” or “no” questions.
Four people with either ALS or Lou Gehrig’s, who have become completely paralyzed from their disease, were asked “yes” or “no” questions, and the patients’ responses were shown on a monitor. The device was able to detect a correct response 70 per cent of the time.
“The striking results overturn my own theory that people with completely locked-in syndrome are not capable of communication,” said Niels Birbaumer, the study’s lead author, in a press release. “We found that all four patients we tested were able to answer the personal questions we asked them, using their thoughts alone.”
The findings, which were published in the journal PLOS Biology are still far from perfect, but the technology is here and research is happening, and that’s a huge win in our books.
Although only four patients were used in this latest study, the technology could change the lives of many with more research.
“If we can replicate this study in more patients, I believe we could restore useful communication in completely locked-in states for people with motor neuron diseases,” he said.
Sounds like science fiction, but it’s actually just science.