The ground-breaking technology enabled people with total paralysis to answer simple questions
People with completely locked-in state (CLIS) have been communicating for the first time with neuroscientists, using new brain-reading technology.
Despite scientific and technological advances, until now communication has remained impossible for people with complete motor paralysis who are still aware and able to think.
The research, conducted by doctors at Germany’s University of Tubingen, saw three women and a man who had been diagnosed with advanced amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) - a progressive neurodegenerative disease - more than a year earlier, learn to answer personal questions with ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answers.
During sessions with the scientists, the four patients wore a cap that uses infrared light to spot changes in blood flow in different parts of the brain. After several tests, the computer connected to the cap was able to distinguish blood flow patterns that indicated yes or no for each person.
After a series of successful training sessions, the researchers were then able to ask more personal questions, including about the patients’ quality of life and whether relatives should or should not get married.
While the patients had all developed CLIS as a result of ALS, it can also be found in those paralysed as a result of serious spinal injury, as well as victims of acquired brain injuries, giving hope that this technology could in the future help others.
There are 40,000 people living with spinal cord injuries in the UK, according to the Spinal Injuries Association (SIA), and brain injury association, Headway, says someone is admitted to hospital with an acquired brain injury every 90 seconds.
Lisa Gunner, a serious injury specialist at Thompsons Solicitors, said: “Until now, victims of CLIS have rarely shown signs of their condition improving, leaving doctors and scientists unable to gauge how they are feeling and engage in any form of conversation.
“Working closely with clients and families of people who have suffered life-changing serious injuries, I know how important this breakthrough technology could be for both injury victims and their families.
“Of course, further analysis needs to be done before we can be certain that this technology is something that should be utilised across the board, but from an initial perspective this is incredibly positive.”
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