Friday, November 21, 2008

Implant may allow Paralyzed man to speak

I have to preface this article with a pet peeve of mine - article titles that promise WAY more than they give. The title of this article was paralyzed man speaks again using brain implant. In fact this article was the first baby steps in technology that in five years or so may allow paralyzed victims to speak. Now don't get me wrong, the patient in question had been paralyzed completely for some time - only able to communicate by movements of his eye lids. Researchers strongly suspected that the mans speech center was still functioning. They put their patient in an fMRI brain scanner and asked him to attempt to make vowel sounds. His brain showed the exact same patterns as an uninjured person making those sounds aloud. Researchers implanted a special kind of electrode in his brain, one that's "impregnated with neurotrophic factors" that encourage brain neurons to grow into and around the electrode. Essentially this electrode forms a very strong connection with brain neurons, which results in a strong signal that reliably comes from the same part of the patient's brain over time. Over a period of weeks, researchers worked to decode the signals coming from the man's brain. Eventually, he was able to produce three vowel sounds with good accuracy. The man produces these sounds as quickly as he would normal speech, and the long-term goal within five years is to have him use the speech brain–computer interface to produce words directly.

But as you can see, the man is NO where near speaking as of yet and may NEVER speak. The research is startling and cutting edge. That on its own merit makes it interesting. The title does no more than treat the science aficionado the same way head line news force feeds the brain dead.

Its a great article with links to Nature that are well worth reading. Just wish they would stop treating me like I am drooling into my scrambled eggs. oh and if you click the link you will see Nature does the same thing. Why do I bother....


sallreen said...

Researchers found that implants known as brain-computer interfaces (BCI) may be able to detect activity on one side of the brain that is linked to hand and arm movements on the same side of the body. A Paralyzed man using a new brain sensor has been able to move a computer cursor, open e-mail and control a robotic device.

Beam Me Up said...

Thanks for the info sallreen. Yes I had seen those examples. Very exciting. Though the main difference is that those experiments took place on an area they knew was still functioning. So with a little bit of tweaking they were able to get activity fairly easily. What makes this new research so exciting is that they were not even sure the area was functioning until they started. It also holds promise for long term paralysis being overcome. There are many instances where the brain remains functional and the signals are as strong as ever but the related body parts no longer respond. This research hold hope for so many that are trapped within their bodies.