Beacon Transcript – An ALS patient has been able to communicate her mind with the help of an experimental implant software which allows her to type words.
ALS or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, which is also called Lou Gehrig’s disease, is a degenerative condition which slowly paralyzes its sufferer.
A late stage ALS patient will have probably lost their ability to move or communicate as the final stages of the disease usually lead to the inability to breathe or swallow alone.
The United Stated ALS Association estimates that almost 30,000 American residents may be suffering from the disease. The association has released a number of ALS awareness campaigns.
The current innovative study was developed by a team of Dutch scientists and had its results published in the New England Journal Of Medicine on November 12.
The ALS patient to benefit from the implant is Hanneke De Brujine that is in the late stage of the disease and has lost her ability to communicate orally.
De Brujine, like other patients, has and will still be using the more common eye-tracking technology. The blinking method is quite widespread but limited as patients can only answer “yes” or “no” questions.
Researchers used what was left of the ALS patient’s still-functioning nerve activity generated by the usual hand movement.
Last year, in October, the scientists implanted in the brain region which controls the aforementioned nerve activity with a number of 4 electrode strips.
These are used in order to pick up the signals sent by the nerves, and then use sensors so as to amplify and transmit them to another implant located under the collarbone.
This last implant then sends the nerve activity to tablet device, which allows the ALS patient to communicate at a speed of two letters per minute.
The brain and collarbone implants effectively allow De Brujine to remote-control a device by using solely her brain and not needing additional help from scientists.
She can now communicate with her caregivers by using this “brain-clicks” so as to select certain letters from the keyboard display of her computer screen.
According to the Netherlands University Medical Center Utrecht cognitive neuroscience professor and study co-author, Nick Ramsey, the patient is quite content with the device.
As a year has passed since the surgery, Ramsay stated that the ALS patient uses the implant so as to communicate when poor lighting leads to an ineffective eye-tracking.
Ramsay also stated that the implant is in perfect working condition and makes De Brujine feel safe as it is a useful communication method.
The same Ramsay declared that he is hopeful as to the implant’s efficiency in other patients as well. He also considers this as a first effort and step in terms of improving the device’s abilities.
Further improvements could potentially lead to a less severely paralyzed person’s chance of regaining some of its communication or even motor abilities.
Amongst the problems that this software may help move along, Ramsay numbers the lost motor capabilities including speech and limb mobility caused even by affections such as strokes.
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