"Noninvasive brain-computer interface enables communication after brainstem stroke" (Science Translational Medicine) reports on the successful use of a brain-computer interface to allow an individual with "lock in syndrome" (conscious and aware, but unable to move any part of his body) to spell words and carry on dialogue with his family.
The idea of lock-ins communicating by means of brain-computer interfaces — albeit much more sophisticated ones — is a key plot element of of John Scalzi's excellent novel Lock In. This is the first time this kind of interface was accomplished with stroke survivors — the same team had previously had success in communicating with people with advanced ALS.
Brain-computer interfaces (BCIs) provide communication that is independent of muscle control, and can be especially important for individuals with severe neuromuscular disease who cannot use standard communication pathways or other assistive technology. It has previously been shown that people with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) can successfully use BCI after all other means of independent communication have failed. The BCI literature has asserted that brainstem stroke survivors can also benefit from BCI use. This study used a P300-based event-related potential spelling system. This case study demonstrates that an individual locked-in owing to brainstem stroke was able to use a noninvasive BCI to communicate volitional messages. Over a period of 13 months, the participant was able to successfully operate the system during 40 of 62 recording sessions. He was able to accurately spell words provided by the experimenter and to initiate dialogues with his family. The results broadly suggest that, regardless of the precipitating event, BCI use may be of benefit to those with locked-in syndrome.
Noninvasive brain-computer interface enables communication after brainstem stroke
(Image: Brainstem small, Anatomography, CC-BY-SA)