Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Brain Implants Provide Power to Communicate for Severly Disabled

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Brain Implants Provide Power to Communicate for Severly Disabled

Article excerpt

Brain implants are making it possible for severely disabled people to use the power of thought to communicate through a computer. The researchers responsible hope that the technology will eventually allow people who are totally paralyzed to operate artificial limbs.

So far, two incapacitated people have received the implants. This gave them the power to control a cursor on a computer screen by thinking about moving parts of their body. By pointing the cursor at different icons, the patients could make the computer voice phrases such as "I'm thirsty" or "Please turn off the light."

"If you can run a computer, you can talk to the world," says Roy Bakay of Emory University in Atlanta, whose team developed the implants. The implants consist of two hollow glass cones, no bigger than the tip of a ball-point pen, placed into the brain's motor cortex, which controls body movements. The glass cones are laced with neurotrophic chemicals extracted from the patients' own knees. These chemicals encourage nerve growth so, over several months, neurons in the cortex grow pathways into the cones and attach themselves to tiny electrodes mounted inside. To decide where to place the implants, Bakay and his colleagues used a magnetic resonance imaging scanner to reveal the most active regions of each patient's motor cortex. Once nerves had grown into the cones, the patients were asked to think about moving various parts of their body. The responses of the electrodes in the cones were monitored and translated into commands for the computer cursor. At the moment, these commands are quite simple: up and down for one cone, and left and right for the other. But this is just the start, Bakay says. Depending on exactly which nerves grow into the cones, each patient may have to think about moving a different part of his or her body to achieve the desired cursor movement. …

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