In a medical first, researchers harnessed the brain waves of a paralyzed man unable to speak — and turned what he intended to say into sentences on a computer screen.
It will take years of additional research but the study, reported Wednesday, marks an important step toward one day restoring more natural communication for people who can’t talk because of injury or illness.
“Most of us take for granted how easily we communicate through speech,” said Dr. Edward Chang, a neurosurgeon at the University of California, San Francisco, who led the work. “It’s exciting to think we’re at the very beginning of a new chapter, a new field” to ease the devastation of patients who lost that ability.
Today, people who can’t speak or write because of paralysis have very limited ways of communicating. For example, the man in the experiment, who was not identified to protect his privacy, uses a pointer attached to a baseball cap that lets him move his head to touch words or letters on a screen. Other devices can pick up patients’ eye movements. But it’s a frustratingly slow and limited substitution for speech.
Tapping brain signals to work around a disability is a hot field. In recent years, experiments with mind-controlled prosthetics have allowed paralyzed people to shake hands or take a drink using a robotic arm — they imagine moving and those brain signals are relayed through a computer to the artificial limb.
Read more at AP News.