A brain implant has helped a woman with ‘locked-in’ syndrome to communicate again despite her severe paralysis.
In 2008, Hanneke de Bruijne from the Netherlands, was diagnosed with Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, which the NHS says affects approximately 2 in every 100,000 people in the UK.
The 58-year-old now has very late-stage ALS, characterised by loss of voluntary muscle control in her arms, legs and fingers, but has retained normal cognition.
Options for communication have been limited to blinking and using an eye-tracking device to answer closed-ended questions.
But now the new technology has allowed de Bruijne to independently control a computer-typing program just 28 weeks after the electrodes were inserted on her motor cortex and thorax.
The implant system works on the basis of localised activation: meaning that attempts to move limbs and communicate prompts specific signals in corresponding regions of the brain.
The computer interface is then able to decipher these signals and produce communication that can be understood by others.
Spelling was accomplished by the selection, with brain clicks, of individual or grouped letters that were highlighted automatically and sequentially.
Published in the New England Journal Of Medicine, the successful trial has so far allowed the patient to compose entire sentences directly from her brain, at the rate of two words per minute.
Nick Ramsey, professor of neuroscience, told CNN: “It’s a fully implantable system that works at home without need for any experts to make it work.”