By Lisa Rapaport/Reuters Health
Paralysed people might one day be able to operate smartphones and tablets just by thinking about the actions they want to perform, with help from sensors implanted in their brains, a recent experiment suggests.
Dr Jaimie Henderson of the Stanford University School of Medicine in California said by e-mail: “We are still likely a number of years away from having a fully implantable, FDA-approved device that would be available for widespread use.”
The current experiment included just three patients. Two of them had weakness or loss of movement of their arms and legs due to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease; a third patient was paralysed from a spinal cord injury.
For the experiment, scientists implanted devices the size of a baby aspirin into the motor cortex, the area of the brain involved in planning and executing voluntary movements.
The implant was designed to detect signals associated with intended movements and then transmit these signals to a Bluetooth interface configured to work like a wireless mouse. The virtual mouse was paired to an off-the-shelf Google Nexus 9 tablet.
With the sensor and the wireless “mouse,” participants were able to navigate through commonly used tablet programmes, including e-mail, chat, music-streaming and video-sharing apps.
They also messaged with family, friends, members of the research team and their fellow participants. And, they surfed the web, checked the weather and shopped online.
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