In the field of brain computer interfaces (BCI), science fiction ideas are fast becoming a real future possibility, and they may not be as far off as you might think. In addition to helping patients who cannot speak to communicate, BCI research may result in the production of devices designed to assist spinal cord injury victims to breathe and fully paralyzed patients to move prosthetic limbs and send signals via electrodes and a computer to other parts of their nervous system.
An article in U.S. News with information provided by the National Science Foundation reported that BCI is only in the infancy of its development. Jerry Shih MD, and Dean Krusienski PhD worked together in Jacksonville, Florida on a study that made use of BCIs in six epilepsy patients. The patients had electrodes implanted inside their skulls, which requires a procedure known as a craniotomy.
The six epilepsy patients were asked to think about letters on a screen while their implanted electrodes monitored the electrical activity in their brains and fed it back into a computer. The computer then calibrated their brainwaves to the corresponding letters and was then able to interpret the brain waves and display the letter the patients thought about.
Previous tests of similar technology made use of electrodes applied to the scalp, rather than implanted in the skull. In this study, the scientists took advantage of the fact that the electrodes were already implanted. Their goal was to study the difference in the quality of information between external and internal electrodes. The results of their study demonstrated that implanted electrodes ‘proved faster and more accurate’ than their non-invasive counterparts, reported the U.S. News article.
Stroke victims, traumatic brain injury survivors, sufferers of Lou Gerhig’s Disease, and paralysis victims all stand to benefit from advances in BCI technology. Prosthetic limbs controlled by brainwaves, brain-to-brain communication, and technological cures for complete paralysis are some of the promising developments the future of BCIs might hold.
Cimons, Marlene. (January 4, 2010) ‘Communicating Using Brain Waves and a Computer.’ Retrieved on January 10, 2010 from the US News website:http://www.usnews.com/science/articles/2010/01/04/communicating-using-br…