Margaret Osborne in Smithsonian:
A fully paralyzed man with ALS, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, was able to communicate with doctors and his family using a brain-computer interface that allowed him to spell out words using his thoughts, according to a new study published in Nature Communications. This research represents the first time a completely paralyzed person regained the ability to communicate at length, explains study author Niels Birbaumer, a former neuroscientist at the University of Tübingen, to the New York Times’ Jonathan Moens.
The patient had previously used eye-tracking technology to talk with family before losing control of eye movements, but began working with researchers while he could still talk using that method. After implanting the patient’s brain with microelectrodes, researchers tried for 86 days to communicate until they decided to try a method called auditory neurofeedback, writes Technology Networks’ Ruairi J Mackenzie. The process involved researchers showing the patient his brain activity in real time, and the patient learning to change his brain signals, writes Science’s Kelly Servick. The man learned to hit audible target notes by increasing or decreasing his neural activity. A higher tone—increased firing rate of neurons—meant “yes,” while a lower tone meant “no.”