Researchers led by the Wyss Center for Bio and Neuroengineering in Geneva, Switzerland created a computer interface that interpret the thoughts of people with locked-in syndrome. The findings, published in the journal PLOS Biology, showed that the patients were happy.
Those with locked-in syndrome are completely paralyzed but they are aware and conscious of the environment. They can still move their eyes and blink.
Initially, the participants of the study answered yes or no to questions by the researchers. The researchers employed a near-infrared spectroscopy with electroencephalography (EEG) to measure blood oxygenation and electrical activity in the brain, the press release states.
Further investigation were conducted to four patients with ALS, known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or Lou Gehrig’s disease. This condition is a fatal degenerative disease of the nervous system characterized by progressive muscle weakness and atrophy.
The research team asked these patients with personal questions and close-ended questions. Questions included ones with known answers, like their spouse’s name and emotions.
“The striking results overturn my own theory that people with completely locked-in syndrome are not capable of communication. We found that all four patients we tested were able to answer the personal questions we asked them, using their thoughts alone. If we can replicate this study in more patients, I believe we could restore useful communication in completely locked-in states for people with motor neuron diseases,” said lead researcher Niels Birbaumer.
The researchers were surprised about the positive responses of the patients despite their quality of life. The researchers say that these ALS patients were already happy as long as they receive satisfactory care at home.
“Restoring communication for completely locked-in patients is a crucial first step in the challenge to regain movement. The Wyss Center plans to build on the results of this study to develop clinically useful technology that will be available to people with paralysis resulting from ALS, stroke, or spinal cord injury,” said John Donoghue, Director of the Wyss Center. “The technology used in the study also has broader applications that we believe could be further developed to treat and monitor people with a wide range of neuro-disorders.”