Sci-Tech

Brain implant lets completely paralysed woman communicate again

The device is being hailed as a world-first, an at-home brain implant that allows the patient to operate a computer with her mind.

A female patient with ALS, no longer able to move or speak, has been given a new way to communicate with the world around her. A team of researchers at the University Medical Centre Utrecht in the Netherlands has implanted a device in the 58-year-old woman's brain, allowing her to control a speech computer with her brain signals. It is the first time such a device has been able to be used at home, said Nick Ramsey, professor of cognitive science.

"This is a major breakthrough in achieving autonomous communication among severely paralysed patients whose paralysis is caused by either ALS, a cerebral haemorrhage or trauma," he said in a statement. "In effect, this patient has had a kind of remote control placed in her head, which enables her to operate a speech computer without the use of her muscles."

To operate the speech computer, the patient thinks about moving her fingers. The brain activity associated with these thoughts is then translated into signals via the electrodes implanted in her brain. These signals are then transmitted to the computer wirelessly by a transmitter implanted under her collarbone, connected to the electrodes via wires that run under her skin. These signals are then interpreted by the computer, allowing the woman to compose words, one letter at a time.