Breakthrough that could help Hawking speak again

Breakthrough that could help Hawking speak again

Paralysis sufferers could soon learn to talk again after scientists discovered how the brain allows humans to pronounce vowels, a new study has claimed.

Scientists are investigating the use of brain waves to create a new form of communication which could return the power of speech to paralysis sufferers like Physicist Stepehen hawking. Diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease at 21, Hawking, now 70, relies on a computerised device to speak.

The research could pave way for prosthetic devices in the brain returning the power of speech to those paralysed by injury or disease. Researchers followed 11 epilepsy patients who had electrodes implanted in their brains to pinpoint the origin of their seizures, with neuron activity as they uttered one of five vowels or syllables containing the vowels recorded.

They found two areas, the superior temporal gyrus and a region in the medial frontal lobe, that housed neurons related to speech and attuned to vowels. Neurons in the superior temporal gyrus, responsible for processing sounds responded to all the vowels, whereas those that fired exclusively for only one or two vowels were found in the medial frontal region involved in memory.

The unravelling of vowels in the superior temporal gyrus reflected the anatomy that made speech possible, specifically the tongue’s position inside the mouth.

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