New England, USA
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that destroys motor capabilities by affecting the nervous system. One life-altering side effect of the disease is that the patient’s ability to communicate is removed, although their minds remain fully functional. When all the neurons are ultimately obliterated, the patient becomes both paralysed and in need of breathing assistance. Around 20,000 people are reported to be living with ALS in the US annually.
In the first project of its kind, a device has been implanted in the brain of a patient, Hanneke de Bruijne, where a limited amount of communication skills have returned to her within a home setting.
Medical Daily reports that the implant is made up of probes that are inserted through holes in the skull so that they can sit on the brain. These probes are linked to a device beneath skin on the chest that then sends data to a tablet connected to her wheelchair, thus allowing the patient to type her words.
The technique is still in its infancy, researchers admit, and while there are areas where it could improve, it is a promising start.
Nick Ramsey, professor of neuroscience and team leader described the surgery as a “world first” as it functions at home without the assistance of experts.