The latest clinical trial to treat paralysis with neuroprosthesis is a grand success. Get to know everything about this advanced treatment now.
Recent research conducted by the University of California, San Francisco had enabled a paralyzed patient to speak in full sentences. This study was published in the New England Journal of Medicine on July 15.
How Can Neuroprosthesis Treat Paralysis?
Neuroprosthesis uses high-end technology to translate the signals sent by the vocal tract to the brain to be displayed on a screen in the form of a text.
UCSF neurosurgeon Edward Chang, MD spent a decade developing this technology that enables severely paralyzed individuals to communicate freely. Jeanne Robertson Distinguished Professor and senior author of the study considers this to be the first successful trial ever.
The research was inspired after statistics showed a record number of individuals losing their ability to speak after a stroke, accident, or disease. Following the success, researchers have further proceeded into making the interface to enable complete communication.
Previous developments in neuroprosthesis focused on enabling the limbs of paralyzed individuals to type each letter to form words but Chang’s research took a different trail trying to help these affected individuals speak fluidly as normal humans.
He said that an average person speaks around 150 to 200 words per minute and the intensity of the conversation increases the speed of speech. Having to type everything letter by letter could take a considerable amount of time and can affect the listener’s ability to understand.
How Does Neuroprosthesis Work?
Chang had taken several volunteers with normal communicative skills from the UCSF Epilepsy Center to study the brain’s response to various signals from the vocal cord. The participants were undergoing neurosurgery for their seizures by the use of electrode arrays installed in the brain. The speech-related activities of these patients were analyzed.
Several other researchers along with Chang mapped cortical activities, connected complex brain activities with speech to track movements that occurred while pronouncing each and every vowel and consonant.
Though their prototype worked for people with the ability to speak, the real challenge was to make it work on people who can’t speak in reality. The team wasn’t exactly sure whether the vocal cords of affected individuals would still be able to coordinate.
Karunesh Ganguly, MD, Ph.D., an associate professor of neurology assisted Chang to launch a study known as “BRAVO” (Brain-Computer Interface Restoration of Arm and Voice).
BRAVO 1, a 30-year-old man who lost his ability to speak and move his limbs 15 years ago due to a severe brain stroke was the first participant. BRAVO1 gained limited ability to move his limbs and neck after his treatment and was aided by a pointer attached to a baseball cap for speech.
With the help of a high-density electrode array implanted in his speech motor cortex, BRAVO1 was able to pronounce 50 words of common vocabulary after several months over 48 sessions.
Neuroprosthesis to Treat Paralysis
Sean Metzger, MS, and Jessie Liu, BS, both bioengineering doctoral students in the Chang Lab used AI to record neural activity.
The finding showed that the BRAVO1 was able to speak 18 words per minute and the electrode arrays had decoded with an accuracy of 93%.
The entire team is currently looking forward to testing their neuroprosthesis findings on new participants to treat paralysis efficiently.