18/Apr/2014 - Last News Update: 14:00

New brain scanner helps paralysed people spell words

Category: Health

Published: 29th Jun 2012 14:36:52

A new brain scanner has been developed to help people who are completely paralysed speak by enabling them to spell words using their thoughts.

It uses functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to help patients choose between 27 characters - the alphabet and a blank space.

Each character produces a different pattern of blood flow in the brain, and the device interprets these patterns.

The British Neurological Association called the research "exciting".

The study appears in Current Biology journal of Cell Press.

fMRI is normally used to track brain activity by measuring blood flow.

The new technology is based on earlier applications of the technique, which used free-letter spelling to allow people to answer the equivalent of multiple-choice questions with just a few possible answers.

British neuroscientist Adrian Owen, for instance, used fMRI to help a man believed to have been in a vegetative state for five years to answer "yes" and "no" questions by interpreting his brain activity.

But the new scanner uses the entire English alphabet and the blank space.

[The device could be] a lifeline for patients with persistent vegetitative state”

"This novel spelling device constitutes an alterative approach to motor-independent communication," Bettina Sorger of Maastricht University in The Netherlands, one of the researchers working on the current study, told BBC News.

"The work of Adrian Owen and colleagues led me to wonder whether it might even become possible to use fMRI, mental tasks, and appropriate experimental designs to freely encode thoughts, letter-by-letter, and therewith enable back-and-forth communication in the absence of motor behavior."

The team writes in the paper that because the noninvasive device requires "only little effort and pretraining, it is immediately operational and possesses high potential for clinical applications, both in terms of diagnostics and establishing short-term communication with nonresponsive and severely motor-impaired patients".

Elaine Snell of the British Neuroscience Association told the BBC that the technology could become "a lifeline" for patients in a persistent vegetative state, or suffering from other neurological disorders.

"This means of communication will make a huge difference to the quality of their life and to that of their families.

"This kind of technology can only get better, it's very exciting."

Source:
BBC News External Link Show Citation

Latest News

Harvard Citation

BBC News, 2012. New brain scanner helps paralysed people spell words [Online] (Updated 29th Jun 2012)
Available at: http://www.ukwirednews.com/news/1437736/New-brain-scanner-helps-paralysed-people-spell-words [Accessed 18th Apr 2014]

News In Other Categories

  • Lerwick in Shetland set to benefit from superfast broadband

    Lerwick in Shetland is set to be the first Scottish island community to benefit from superfast broadband technology.
  • Tech tools make selling to the world child's play

    How do you tell the world about your remote-controlled flying fish toys?
  • Easter Monday funeral for Peaches Geldof

    A private funeral for Peaches Geldof will be held on Easter Monday at the Kent church where she was married, her family has said.
  • Bristol Academy extends reach overseas with first foreign students

    With the doors to its brand new £1million training centre officially open, one of the UK's leading apprentice training providers, Bristol based S&B Automotive Academy, is showcasing its world-class facilities by launching a series of foreign student exchanges for the first time in its 41-year history. To get a flavour of what life is like as an apprentice in the UK, the Academy hosted 16 apprentice engineers and bus drivers from the G9 Automotive College in Hamburg, Germany, as part of a Europe-wide vocational training initiative called the ‘Leonardo Programme’ with support from the European Social Fund. In a reciprocal arrangement, S&B will be sending nine apprentices to Germany during February 2012 so that they can get an appreciation of life in the automotive industry on the Continent. A further three German exchange groups are being planned for next year. Designed to assist the development of vocational skills and training across Europe, including work placements for trainees, the Leonardo Programme has a budget of €1.75bn, which is helping to encourage UK organisations to work with their counterparts abroad. In what is expected to be another challenging year for employers in the UK automotive sector, S&B’s Chief Executive, Jon Winter, claims that the exchange initiative will bring many benefits to the Academy and its apprentices: “In a world of global automotive brands, it’s important for our learners to understand the international context of the industry they have chosen to make their career. This new exchange programme will enable apprentices and Academy staff alike to achieve a better understanding of the challenges and opportunities within the automotive arena in Europe. With the Academy’s influence also extending to the USA and Asia, there’s every possibility that this initiative could move further afield in the future.” Continued Winter: “The need for skilled technicians across the world is on the increase and we actively encourage our apprentices to look at broader horizons during their training. Many of them have already learned the phrase ‘Vorsprung durch Gelehrtheit’, quite simply, ‘Advancement through learning.” In the 2010/11 academic year, S&B doubled the number of successful Apprenticeships over the previous year with some 350 apprentices graduating from the Academy. At the same time, achievement levels reached an all-time high with an overall success rate of 85%. For those learners on the Advanced Apprenticeship three-year programme, success rates were even higher, at over 98%. PHOTO CAPTION: As part of their exchange visit, S&B Automotive Academy arranged for the German apprentices to visit Hampshire bus operator, Bluestar, at its Barton Park depot. The students are pictured with S&B’s Andy West (3rd right) and Steve Prewett, Bluestar’s Area Engineering Manager (2nd right). Ends http://www.sandbaa.com
  • Michael Hoey slips back after 73 at Malaysian Open

    Michael Hoey's challenge at the Malaysian Open faltered on Friday with a one-over-par 73 leaving him nine behind leader Lee Westwood at halfway.
  • Easter Monday funeral for Peaches Geldof

    A private funeral for Peaches Geldof will be held on Easter Monday at the Kent church where she was married, her family has said.