New Brain Implant Allows ALS Patients to Communicate With Thoughts |

2022-07-22 07:28:31 By : Ms. cindy lin

By Lynn Allison    |   Tuesday, 19 July 2022 01:48 PM EDT

Scientists have developed a device that can be implanted into a patient’s brain and connected to a computer that can translate thoughts into action. In early July a doctor at Mount Sinai in New York threaded the 1.5-inch implant made of wires and electrodes, called a stentrode, into a blood vessel in the brain of a patient with ALS, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.

The patient, who has lost the ability to move and speak, hopefully will be able to now communicate through email and text as his thoughts are transmitted from the stentrode to a computer implanted into the patient’s chest.

It's the first time this type of surgery has been performed in the U.S. It has great potential to help disabled patients regain some form of communication.

“This surgery was special because of its implications and huge potential,” said Dr. Shahram Majidi, a neurointerventional surgeon who performed the procedure.

According to Bloomberg, the computer implanted in the chest amplifies the signals sent from the stentrode in the patient’s brain and sends them out to a computer or smartphone equipped with Bluetooth. The cutting-edge technology was developed by the startup company Synchron and has already been used in four people with ALS in Australia. The patients, who have not experienced any side effects, have been able to carry out everyday tasks, such as sending messages and ordering online. The huge difference between the Synchron technology and past attempts at brain-computer interface (BCI) such as the Utah Array, made by Blackrock Neurotech, is that the implantation of Synchron’s stentrode is simple and takes minutes.

According to Majidi, the process is similar to implanting a coronary stent.

For the Utah Array, surgeons need to drill into a patient’s skull to place rigid needles in the brain and then attach a dime size device on top of a person’s head. Bloomberg says that the Utah Array has given patients with severe disabilities the gift of commanding robotic arms to bring them water. But the device must be used in a hospital setting and the brain tends to form scar tissue, which downgrades the electronic signals. The Australian patients implanted with Synchron’s stentrode are successfully using it from their homes.

The U.S. patient who recently received the Synchron device is the first in a six-person $10 million trial funded by the National Institutes of Health after the company received the green light from the Food and Drug Administration. Douglas Weber, a bioengineer at Carnegie Mellon University, and David Putrino, a physical therapist with a Ph.D., in neuroscience at Mount Sinai are heading up the trial which will focus on developing clear brain signals to the computer.

The strentrode uses 16 electrodes to monitor brain activity and according to Bloomberg, the signal strength increases over time as the device fuses deeper into the blood vessel and closer to the neurons. Patients will not be able to communicate in sentences but rather by picking letters one-by-one on a screen.

Dr. Tom Oxley, an Australian physician who holds a doctorate in neuroscience, developed the technology and is Synchron’s co-founder and chief executive officer. According to Fast Company, he started his own BCI company after encountering a patient who, at the age of 40, suffered a stroke and could not move anything but his eyes. Even though his brain was working normally his muscles weren’t and he wanted to die. His physicians obliged. That incident left a lasting mark on Oxley and compelled him to start his own BCI company in 2012. Synchron is now headquartered in Brooklyn.

Oxley hopes to implant 16 stentrodes in the coming year, going beyond the initial NIH study and into advanced trials for the FDA. Besides ALS patients, the device may be useful for those who have suffered strokes and spinal cord injuries among other conditions. He hopes that this first surgery will show that the operation is similar to procedures such as implanting pacemakers and stents that doctors are already familiar with, and can therefore be performed on a regular basis.

“I feel like we have broken through this barrier and that people get it,” he said.

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