A Brain Implant Allows A Paralysed Woman to be Independent

Brain implants involve a complex process. In the field of study of brain implants, it has been recently found that a completely paralysed woman using brain implant could lead her domestic life without any doctor supervision. She has become the first person ever to use brain implants without any supervision.

Nick Ramsey, a specialist in brain-computer interfaces (BCI) at the Brain Center Rudolf Magnus at UMC Utrecht in the Netherlands has presented the work at the annual Society for Neuroscience meeting. The research paper is also published in New England Journal of Medicine.

The patient is 58 years old, diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) in 2008. ALS, which is also referred to as Lou Gehrig’s disease or motor neurone disease, destroys the neurones that are required for voluntary muscle control. There is no cure invented and gradually it causes complete paralysis. In this case, women retained control over her eyes.

The team of doctors and engineers at UMC Utrecht have installed a simple brain implant called electrocorticography (ECoG). ECoG is similar to EEG and only the electric sensors are placed inside the skull rather than on scalp. ECoG thereby has the capability to read the signals accurately than EEG. However, the resolution is not high in relation to other techniques. Nevertheless, the most advantageous feature of ECoG is that they are light in weight and allows the user to use it at home and outdoors without supervision or support.

The ECoG implant used in this case has four electrode strips, two were placed in the region of her brain. These electrodes would control the movements of her right hand. The other two electrodes are placed over an area that shall be used for counting backwards. Only the hand moving electrodes are used for now and the other is the backup for when the brain degenerates.

Each electrode strip is about 5 centimetres long, with four small electrodes in a line. While performing the surgery to install the implant, leads from the electrodes are connected to the amplifier. These are further attached to transmitter device placed subcutaneously below the left clavicle. For the activating the implant a device is placed on the patient’s chest, which can be wirelessly connected to the transmitter and the data is sent to a receiver and then forwarded to a tablet computer.

For the patient to get acquainted with the system first the patient has to undergo training sessions. These training sessions aim at helping the patient in attaining the ability to perform a “brain click”– thinking about moving her right hand for about second.

Ramsey says that she had achieved an accuracy of 95 percent post six months of training. Despite such accuracy, it is still not the fastest input method. It might take 20 seconds to select a letter from on- screen keyboard, a few minutes to write a word.

The patient still uses her normal eye- tracking input method while indoors but at the outdoors the brain implant is activated because the eye- tracker doesn’t function well in bright light. New Scientist quoted the patient as, “Now I can communicate outdoors when my eye-track computer doesn’t work.” “I’m more confident and independent now outside.”

Ramsey claimed that main focus of the doctors is to improve the software on the tablet so that speed of the typing is increased. Thereby brain clicks can be used for a wider range of functions- so that domestic activities can be performed by themselves. The patient has said, “My dream is to be able to drive my wheelchair.”

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Shobith MAKAM Written by: