New Brain Implants Allow Paralyzed Women to Speak Again
In a groundbreaking achievement, two women who had lost their ability to speak due to paralysis have regained the power to communicate through brain implants. One woman had been diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a disease that affects the motor neurons, while the other had suffered a stroke in her brain stem.
The brain implants, as described in separate papers published in the journal Nature by teams from Stanford University and UC San Francisco, were able to decode the neural activity associated with facial movements involved in talking. This breakthrough enabled the women to formulate words and express themselves once again.
Remarkably, the devices enabled them to communicate at speeds of 62 and 78 words per minute respectively, which is several times faster than the previous record. This breakthrough holds immense promise for paralyzed individuals who are longing to express themselves more swiftly and accurately.
Scientists believe that this achievement is a significant step towards restoring real-time speech using a brain-computer interface (BCI). BCIs collect and analyze brain signals, translating them into commands for external devices. Previous research had shown that it is possible to translate paralyzed individuals’ intended speech into text, but with limited speed, accuracy, and vocabulary.
In the Stanford study, a BCI utilizing the Utah array, a sensor with electrode-tipped bristles, was employed to collect neural activity data. The collected data was then decoded by a trained artificial neural network, which translated it into words displayed on a screen. The system was tested on a volunteer with ALS, who had the tiny sensors implanted into her cerebral cortex.
Over a period of four months, the software was trained to recognize the neural signals associated with different speech movements, ultimately predicting sequences of words to form sentences. With the help of the device, the ALS patient was able to communicate at an average rate of 62 words per minute. The BCI had a relatively low 23.8 percent error rate on a 125,000 word vocabulary.
This remarkable breakthrough brings researchers closer to a future where paralyzed individuals can have fluid conversations and be understood reliably. The ability to restore communication for those with speech impairments holds immense power and potential for improving their quality of life.