An implanted brain–computer interface has restored the ability of a patient with late-stage amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) to communicate.

Electrodes were placed over the motor cortex and a transmitter placed subcutaneously in the left side of the patient’s chest by University Medical Center Utrecht researchers in the Netherlands.

A computer helps the patient communicate.A computer helps the patient communicate.By attempting to move the hand on the side opposite the implanted electrodes, the female patient independently controls a computer typing program. Thinking about pressing a specific letter on the computer screen sends a corresponding signal to the electrodes, which is sent to the transmitter and converted to a mouse click. In this way words are composed, letter by letter, which are then spoken by the speech computer.

“This is a major breakthrough in achieving autonomous communication among severely paralyzed patients whose paralysis is caused by ALS, a cerebral hemorrhage or trauma,” says Professor Nick Ramsey, professor of cognitive neuroscience. “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.”

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