Thinking out loud: Thoughts that speak?

A woman suffering from the degenerative ALS disease and no longer able to move or speak is now operating a speech computer with her thoughts.

Researchers at Utrecht University’s medical center implanted electrodes in the woman’s brain. The electrodes are placed in the brain’s area that would control the woman’s finger movements. Individual letters are on a computer screen in front of her eyes. The letters light up one at a time. 

When she sees the letter she wants, she thinks about clicking a computer mouse to select it. That thought sends an electrical pulse through the electrode which “captures” the letter. The process builds words letter by letter. To save time, the software can suggest words based on the letters selected.

After the surgery, the woman needed a short period of practice to get the hang of working the device. She was able to become proficient in a short time.

The electrodes in her brain connect under the skin to a transmitter implanted near the woman’s collarbone. No wires protrude from her head.

The research team plans to try the technology on two additional patients. If all three show success, an international trial will follow.

TRENDPOST: As researchers map brain functions to its specific areas, compensating technologies such as this one can become more common. This union of electronics and tissue will serve as a bridge until genetic and tissue engineering abolishes chronic conditions.

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