New Technology May Enable Locked-in Patients to Communicate

A new study utilises so-called mind-reading technology in order to enable people suffering with locked-in syndrome to communicate.

Patients were able to provide yes or no answers to a series of questions via a computer, which has the ability to interpret brain signals in the individuals suffering from the severe form of motor neurone disease.

And the system correctly relayed what they were thinking 70% of the time.

The study was conducted by researchers from the University of Tübingen and Central Institute of Mental Health in Germany, Shanghai Maritime University in China and the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke in the US.

It was funded by several organisations including the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, German Ministry of Education and Research, Eva and Horst Köhler-Stiftung, National Natural Science Foundation of China and an EU grant.

And it has been published in the peer-reviewed journal PLOS Biology on an open-access basis and is free to read online.

Coverage in the British press has been extensive, although some of the reportage has been exaggerated.

The reality is that this process is rather limited at present, and the computer system was also incorrect 30% of the time.

While this does mean that the computer was right more than twice as often as it was wrong, there nonetheless needs to be vastly improved results achieved before the system is really useful.

Nonetheless, the ability of the machine to utilise brainwave signals promises interesting developments in this field in the future.

Researches are cautiously optimistic about the results, stating that they represent “potentially the first step towards abolition of completely locked-in states, at least for patients with ALS”.

Clearly a long period of scientific study lies ahead, but there may be hope on the horizon for those hoping to communicate with individuals suffering from locked-in disease.

 

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