- Device works by picking up electrical signals sent by brain to vocal tract
- It translates them into letters, allowing patients to spell out words and sentences
- Scientists say the device could become available to others within a decade
A ‘mind-reading’ brain implant has allowed an American man to communicate again, after a devastating stroke robbed him of the ability to speak.
The device works by picking up electrical signals sent by the brain to the vocal tract when the patient tries to mouth codewords.
A computer then translates these into letters, allowing words and then sentences to be projected onto a screen — at a speed of about seven words per minute.
The 36-year-old patient, known only as Pancho, is the first to trial the device, which its makers hope can be rolled out more widely within a decade.
Scientists at the University of California, San Francisco, say it could be used for people with a host of other speech-robbing conditions including cerebral palsy.
Pancho was paralyzed from the neck down at the age of 20 by a pontine stroke, a type which can cause locked-in syndrome — in which people are only able to move their eyes.
He is said to be thrilled with the device and has used it to tell researchers that he hates hospital food.
What is a pontine stroke?
A pontine cerebrovascular accident is a type of stroke that that occurs on the pons region of the brain stem.
The rare strokes can be deadly or leave victims in paralysis or with locked-in syndrome — in which people are only able to move their eyes.
It can result in extensive loss of motor function and other deficits.
A patient’s exact symptoms will vary depending on the severity of the pontine stroke, as well as its specific location.
This is because cranial nerves serve different functions in different areas of the brain stem and within the pons itself.
For example, a stroke on the back of the pons may lead to ataxia, a condition characterized by the loss of muscle coordination.
Other common pontine stroke symptoms include double vision, vertigo, and dizziness.
After a pontine stroke, some patients also experience difficulty swallowing, speech deficits, numbness, and even paralysis of one side of the body or both.
He had suffered a pontine stroke a decade-and-a-half ago, where a blood clot disrupts the flow of blood to the pons region of the brain stem.
The rare stroke can be deadly or leave patients with paralysis, although exact symptoms vary depending on the stroke’s location.
Estimates suggest nearly 5million Americans are living with some form of paralysis, while 700,000 have cerebral palsy.
The study was published in the journal Nature Communications.