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Sniffing Device Allows Disabled to Write, Run Wheelchairs
Date:7/26/2010

By Amanda Gardner
HealthDay Reporter

MONDAY, July 26 (HealthDay News) -- An Israeli research team has harnessed the power of the sniff to help severely disabled people play computer games, express themselves through writing and even move around in wheelchairs.

The experimental "sniff controller" takes advantage of the fact that cranial nerves in disabled people are often not damaged and are still able to send messages to the soft palate (the back of the roof of the mouth). The device registers changes in nasal pressure as the soft palate is being moved. Those changes are translated into electric signals that then communicate to the device.

The researchers, whose findings are published online this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, postulated that the experimental device could help quadriplegics and those suffering from "locked-in syndrome," which is when the patient is aware of their environment but can't respond or move.

"It's a pretty brilliant idea," said Paul Sanberg, distinguished professor of neurosurgery and director of the University of South Florida Center of Excellence for Aging and Brain Repair in Tampa. "It's really a mechanical thing that allows people that don't have other ways to communicate to use sniffing. It gives people who have significant disabilities another option."

Many of these people can only communicate using eye movements, although scientists have been working on different brain-computer or brain-machine interface technologies to expand their abilities, but these are in various stages of development.

As part of the study, one 51-year-old woman, locked in for seven months due to a stroke, was able to use the sniff device to write a message to her family, the first since she had been stricken.

Similarly, a 42-year-old man who had been locked in since a car accident 18 years earlier, wrote messages by sniffing when particular letters we
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