THURSDAY, April 7 (HealthDay News) -- After hooking up a computer to human brains, scientists were able to program the computer to "read" the thoughts of disabled patients, thereby enabling them to control the cursor on the screen.
The researchers are hoping the breakthrough will one day lead to ways to help disabled patients connect better with the world around them.
"We have been fundamentally interested in creating a brain-computer interface that could help people with severe disabilities interact with the world," said Dr. Eric C. Leuthardt, lead author of a paper describing the findings in the April 7 issue of the Journal of Neural Engineering.
People with spinal cord injury, paralysis, who have had a stroke in the part of the brain that controls speech, and even amputees who are unable to operate a keyboard or mouse may benefit from this, said Justin C. Sanchez, director of the Neuroprosthetics Research Group at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine.
"Right now, people who have paralysis will use 'intermediate steps' to control things, like a puffer tube [that you breathe into] or a joystick," Sanchez said. "Interfacing directly with the brain opens up the possibilities. They'd be able to do more things and do things more naturally. They could think about doing something and express it immediately in a seamless way," he explained.
"People have a disconnect between the brain and the body," he added. "What we're trying to deliver back to them is an engineered connection between the brain and the body."
This is, in a sense, a "neural" or "speech prosthetic," in much the same way people have artificial arms or legs.
These researchers looked at four patients, aged 36 to 48, all with intractable epilepsy who were already undergoing placement of an electrode in their brain to determine where the seizures were originating.
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