A woman from Denmark diagnose nearly eight years ago with Lou Gehrig’s disease (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) is now able to communicate thanks to a high-tech brain implant.
In 2008, Hanneke De Bruijne, now 58-years old, was diagnosed with ALS. Because of the disease, the patient lost all her motor control, being unable to speak. According to De Bruijne’s physicians, the woman’s only means of communication with the outside world was through blinking.
But now, thanks to a high-tech brain implant, the woman can better communicate with her caretakers and family members by typing on a tablet.
ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease (after the famous baseball player) is also called the locked-in syndrome. This means that even though patients lose their locomotory functions, their mental activities are intact – like being trapped in your own body.
Unfortunately, in some cases, patients with ALS die after losing the ability to control their breathing muscles.
Nick Ramsey is a neuroscientist and is part of the team that designed De Bruijen’s high-tech brain implant. As the scientist explained, De Bruijne was the perfect candidate for the project, since she retained control of her eyelids.
In addition, the neuroscientist said that most patients diagnosed with ALS eventually lose the ability to control their eyelids.
De Bruijne’s ability to move her eyelids was used to determine whether the brain implant was working or not. The traditional means of communicating with ALS patients is through eye-tracking devices.
At the beginning of 2015, the woman underwent major brain surgery. During the intervention, a team of neurosurgeon placed four electrode rods in the woman’s motor cortex, and two smaller devices underneath her collarbone.
Ramsey explains that the role of the four electrode strips is to pick up brain signals associated with the right-hand movement. These signals are then transferred to the amplifier (one of the two devices implanted under the woman’s collarbone) and then to the transmitter.
Subsequently, the transmitter will relay the information to Microsoft Surface Pro 4 tablet which interprets them as typing signals. According to De Bruijne’s physicians, the woman has made remarkable progress since she received the high-tech brain implant, being able to type two letters per minute.
However, as Ramsey pointed out with additional training, the woman could become as proficient in communicating via her brain-computer interface as the famous Stephan Hawking.
Image source: Pixabay