Technology Will Translate Brain Signals into Actions for Brain Injury Patients

September 18, 2017
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Brain is a sensitive organ and that’s why it was put in a protective case called the skull. Despite the great protection around brain’s sensitive tissues, there are instances when brain can receive severe damages. Traffic accidents cause thousands of brain injury cases every year in just the US. Some lucky people do not receive serious injuries in these accidents but some are not lucky enough to get away from these accidents without serious injuries. They receive brain injuries that not only hurt but make them paralyzed for life. Such quadriplegic patients have to live their life in a bed just because of someone’s negligence.

Technology Will Translate Brain Signals into Actions for Brain Injury Patients

Technological improvements have been made in medical equipment to somehow make these quadriplegic patients feel normal. The most recent steps have been most satisfying not only for the doctors, scientists and engineers working on this technology but also for the patients of sever spinal cord and brain injuries. Given below is a story of years of relentless efforts from hundreds of individuals who had made it their mission to bring a revolutionary improvement in this technology. Here’s what happened:

Computers Can Become Human Brains

In this story you will read about a patient named T6 and a team of neuroscience doctors and their companions who have brought a revolution in the medical equipment for paralyzed patients. With great efforts the patient T6 has now been removed from an old 1980s equipment she had been relying on for her communication with the world. The new system relies on Android and is much more advanced in all aspects. Patients who have amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or Gehrig’s Disease (name of the same disease) will now see a huge change in their lives with this new technology. This technology is for anyone with paralyses from neck to toe.

As for patient T6, she has paralyses from neck to her toes and such severe physical condition does not allow her to move like normal humans. She rests in a bed, she can’t talk and she can’t communicate in any other ingenious way such as making gestures in the air or writing things out. If she is thinking of something in her brain, this will remain the burial grounds for her thoughts because outside world would never know what she is trying to say or communicate. Such helpless condition had been calling for a revolutionary technology for quite some time.

Technology Can Translate Thoughts into Actions

This challenge has been faced by medical scientists for quite some time. They have made efforts to make it possible to have a machine that could connect with the brain and understand it. The interface is called the brain-machine interface and such a technology received great boost just 20 years back. The mission was to make it possible to have brain signals translated into actions that could create a connection between quadriplegic patients and other people. With time scientists have been coming up with products that made it possible. Whenever these items were used on patients it was proved that they had several discrepancies and disadvantages. This is why they could never become commonplace medical equipment. For example, scientists made it possible for paralyzed patients to move mouse pointers on computer screens using the movement of their eyes but this system tired patients so much that it became useless right after its first experiments.

Accuracy remained the top most concern for these systems. The inaccurate output forced patients to make corrections. They had to keep moving their eyes and this exhausted them badly. In short, the technology was less helping than it was paining. Not to mention the fact that these gadgets were priced extremely high. If a patient did not belong to a rich background it was nearly impossible for him/her to use this equipment. People with power could bring in programs to bring the prices of these machines down but the problem of inaccuracy could not be corrected this way. In short, these devices ended up as nothing in history.

The most worthwhile efforts in improving this technology were made by neuroscientist Paul Nuyujukian. He’s associated with Stanford University and he informed the world about his efforts to make this technology better in 2015 at an annual conference of Society for Neuroscience. He said that affordability has remained a big question mark on all innovations made in this area of medicine and he wishes to take on this problem. Neural prosthesis was what he thought the solution to all the problems. He said that with innovative yet affordable technology clinics could be equipped with gadgets that could help fully paralyzed patients.

While using an organ to make communication possible seems to be the only legit and sane way to anyone, he realized that this was the main problem that needed to be sorted out. He called the use of an organ for communication less efficient. He said that a technological gadget was needed that could serve as a bridge between a computer system and brain with no devices in the middle. The pursuit of such technology began and patient T6 became the person who agreed to go under all the experiments. In the beginning the focus was only on innovating such technological equipment despite its great price.

Experiments of Inferior Technological Gadgets

BrainGate went ahead and patient T6 had 100-channel electrode array attached to her body. Before these experiments could reach a result, Stanford Subdivision came up with another innovative idea. They created a prototype keyboard that could work without needing any movement of eyes or other organs. The patient would look at the letter on the keyboard and it will type out on the screen. This was happening because brain signals were being decoded directly.

Patient T6 was going to be the person to use this technology to see its effectiveness. Initial impressions were great as she was able to type letters by simply thinking about them. The neural prosthesis acted as a bridge in this experiment and her brain signals were translated into signals on the computer screen in the form of the letter she was thinking of. In simple words, eyes played a huge role in making this particular experiment successful too. It tired the patient T6 and she was not happy with the fact that she had to retype many letters because of the inaccuracies in the output. Dr. Nuyujukian did not like the fact that this system still had no modern appeal to it. Furthermore, he was very unhappy with the role that electrodes played in this equipment. He wanted to free the patient of the outdatedness and electrodes.

The Efforts Bore Fruit

The team was already looking at whatever options they could use to make it possible. The touchscreens of today went unnoticed for some time but then it was realized that these touchscreens were the solution to all problems. The system that team was working on was nothing different from the working of these touchscreens. Touchscreens were bought from the market rather than working on the system from the scratch. The first touchscreen that was going to make this revolutionary medical equipment possible was Nexus 9.

Rather than doing everything from the scratch the team started working on Nexus 9 and it was not a full year before they came up with a complete system. Bluetooth technology became the basis of the big change that team wanted in its new system, i.e. it removed the need of using electrodes completely. Neural prosthetics that was used in this particular system was to receive signals from the brain and send the decoded signals to the computer screen using the Bluetooth technology. The navigation on such a system was nothing different from normal navigation performed using a Bluetooth mouse. The patient T6 became the first one to bring this technology to use.

The System Was a Success

Cameras were used to record the activities of the patient T6 as she used the system for the first time. It was a huge moment for the team that had worked on this system with all its efforts. Patient T6 was given the freehand to use the system as she wished and it was proved in no time that she was having fun. The short movie clips that had her using the system showed how gladly she searched for gardening on the internet – her favorite subject. Dr. Nuyujukian was graciously looking at these moments as he was looking into the realization of his dreams. Patient T6 was not a still picture for the world anymore because she was now moving free from all restraints with the system. She could use any app she wanted to use from the Google play store. Whatever she thought made pulses in her head and these pulses converted into signals that were carried to the tablet through Bluetooth and performed the action she only thought of. The great efforts of the team were paid off as this system proved to be practical. It did not tire the patient and its output was greatly accurate.

The life of this system is predicted to be 2 years if it is properly maintained and used. The team is now busy in working on durability of the system and making its expiry period longer. Among the important aspects of durability and longevity, the team is also working on other aspects. The team felt happy and accomplished for giving birth to a system that was not only practical but just as affordable too. Dr. Nuyujukian said that this system has a very small price tag and so the price should not stop it from becoming easily available at all the clinics in the world where paralyzed patients are brought.

More Improvements Are Expected with Time

While this is a great achievement for the team, the people involved in making it possible consider it just one of the many milestones that they will cover in future. They wish to add more features into this system so there is literally no difference in how a normal person browses on the internet and how a quadriplegic patient will. The coming milestones for the team would be when they are able to add the drag and drop feature to this system. The team will also be working on the multi-touch capability of the system. As of the moment, BrainGate clinical facilities are the only places where this equipment is available. As more programs are introduced and awareness is spread about this system, it will go in every corner of the world.

Among many other things, the team wants to make this system compatible with other platforms in the market. For example, in the next few months the team will try to make the system compatible on Apple and Windows devices too. Dr. Nuyujukian and his team are working on the system day in day out to make it an investment worth considering for medical organizations around the world.

It is important for all attorneys dealing with personal injury cases to know about this program. They should be telling their personal injury clients about this program and its costs. These costs should be included in the final settlement amount that an attorney is fighting for. A settlement like this could give a new life to victims of severe traffic accidents.  If you have a story related to the subject, you should definitely share it with us here.