Microchip Brain Implant Allows Paralyzed Man To Speak Again

Two square electrode arrays were surgically implanted in the unnamed man’s brain, in the area that controls movement. Once installed, researchers began testing for the most effective brain signals that could be used for interpretation. When various attempts to signal movement proved too inconsistent, they moved on to a more successful system where the patient would try to use the implant to match the pitch of a tone being played.

From there, the system was expanded so that the patient could hold the tone at different levels to indicate a “Yes” or “No” response, then eventually individual letters. While this did allow him to form full sentences, it was not a fast process. In fact, it took roughly one minute per character — or about 30 minutes or more per sentence.

The effectiveness of the implant has also been diminishing over time, though the reasons for that still aren’t entirely clear. Researchers believe scar tissue that has been forming around the implant has been a factor, but suggest it could also be due to the progression of the disease and the toll being taken on the patient’s brain. Unfortunately the technology is still too experimental, and the ethical implications are still under scrutiny, so implants like this are unlikely to become an option for all ALS patients anytime soon.

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