Communication for people with motor paralysis is moving forward

2nd Feb 2017

Communication for people suffering from complete motor paralysis but intact cognitive and emotional processing (a condition known as complete locked-in state, CLIS) has remained near-impossible despite scientific and technological advances.

Previous research done on brain-computer interfaces based on neuroelectrical technology has failed to provide patients in a CLIS with means of communication. This led to the current research on brain-computer interfaces based on functional near infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS). fNIRS measures brain hemodynamic (blood flow) responses associated with neuronal activity. 

In the study, 4 patients suffering from advanced amytrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a motor neuron disease, were required to learn answers to personal questions and open questions with 'yes' or 'no' responses. Out of the patients, 2 were entering CLIS and the other 2 were in a permanent CLIS. Three patents completed 46 sessions spread over several weeks and one patient just made 20 sessions. 

Using fNIRS measure the researchers found that answers to personal questions resulted in an above-chance level response rate over 70%. The open questions did not show a significant difference in answers.

If the study was replicated with more ALS patients in CLIS, these positive results could indicate the first steps towards abolition of complete locked-in states.

To read the full study, please head to PLOS journals website

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