Medical science has been throwing surprises since time immemorial. One such thing is that of a completely paralyzed patient suffering from Lou Gehrig’s disease or ALS regaining his ability of communicating through a novel brain implant, as stated by Europe-based researchers in “Nature Communications” on Tuesday.
The Seriousness pertaining to ALS
Research states that the number of people infected with ALS is rising at an alarming rate every single year. It is, in fact, projected to cross 300K by the year 2040. The treatment mentioned above could act as a lifeline for these people. It would also help the ones who are in comatose states or minimally conscious. This data comes from the New York Times.
A German patient’s brain was subject to insertion of two microchip implants, as per study published by Niels Birbaumer and Ujwal Chaudhary. It was observed that the patient, with the help of mental impulses, could form words and also full sentences.
This proved that one could write sentences through the brain in spite of being paralyzed in entirety, that too, without movement of eyes or any other body part. Lead researcher Niels Birbaumer (also director of the Institute of Medical Psychology and Behavioral Neurobiology at the University of Tubingen), has affirmed the fact stated above. He has added that this new-fangled brain-computer interface will let even an entirely locked-in patients say “whatever they want”.
Similar studies were conducted in the years 2019 and 2017, but they had to be retracted. German Research Foundation had conducted an investigation in this regard, which stated that at that time they hadn’t entailed their analyses and pronounced false statements instead. The foundation, in the current scenario, has stated that the latest mode of study would be investigated.
However, a spokesperson conveyed to the Times that they have to abide by stern policies for safeguarding integrity of research published by them, thereby ascertaining that ethics and transparency in process/experiments have been adhered to.
The sources have confirmed that treatment is pretty expensive and only one patient has been tested till date.
Generation of Brain Activity
As per Neil Thakur – the chief mission officer for the ALS Association, has gone on records to state that the people contracting ALS are good at making use of their ocular expressions for communicating at a higher level through assistive technology like eye-gaze machines. At the same time, the fact that certain patients end up losing ability of fixing their gaze can’t be ignored. In such cases, implants prove to be a feasible solution. The German man was subject to two implants, each of which was a bit more than 10th of inch square placed in motor cortex, the same part of brain that is responsible for movements. An implant does have 64 needle-like electrodes detecting neural signals.
Brain activity was generated by the man by directing the body to move despite knowing that movement won’t be possible. Implants did pick up the same brain activity to give an input to the computer in the form of “yes/no” signal. Though the process is in slow motion as of now (one letter per minute), the saving grace is that the patient does feel cut off from the people around him/her.
Awaiting more such miracles-turned-realities from the world of Medical Sciences!