Paralysed man controls speech with thought

Scientists have said that if they could add more sounds to the repertoire of brain signals the implant can translate, such systems could be a scientific breakthrough in communication for such patients.  

Eric Ramsey, 26, has locked-in syndrome, in which people are unable to move a muscle but are fully conscious.

“We’re very optimistic that the next patient will be able to say words,” ‘New Scientist’ quoted Frank Guenther, a neuroscientist at Boston University, who led the study, as saying.

Guenther said that while a brain implant with invasive surgery could be drastic, but lifting signals directly from neurons may be the only way that locked-in people like Ramsey, or those with advanced forms of ALS, a neurodegenerative disease, will ever be able to communicate quickly and naturally.

Devices that use brain signals captured by scalp electrodes are slow, allowing typing on a keyboard at a rate of one to two words per minute.

“Our approach has the potential for providing something along the lines of conventional speech as opposed to very slow typing,” said Guenther.

His team’s breakthrough was to translate seemingly chaotic firing patterns of neurons into the acoustic “building blocks” that distinguish different vowel sounds. The study has been published in the journal ‘PLoS One’.

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