Researchers find the key to ‘locked-in’ syndrome
Amidst all the Trump vitriol, some uplifting news! A revolutionary new study appears to have given patients with zero control over their bodies the capacity to communicate. Scientists can now use a brain-computer interface to read the brain activity of patients answering basic “yes” or “no” questions.
Four patients partook in the German study, which continued the work of the pioneering Wyss Center in Switzerland. Professor Ujwal Chaudhary, of the latter institution, has spoken of the method’s revolutionary capacity, saying: “It makes a great difference to their quality of life.”
While many “locked-in” patients are able to communicate using eye movements, the four patients in the study lacked even this ability. Nonetheless, when brain cells are active, it changes the oxygen levels in the blood, changing with it the colour of the blood. Scientists then analysed the brain using a technique called near-infrared spectroscopy, an undertaking that allowed them to detect the blood’s colour.
They then asked patients some basic “yes” or “no” questions, such as “is your name…?” The brain signals were then interpreted via a computer. The system achieved an accuracy rating of about 75%, a promising result for the future of sufferers’ ability to communicate.
But not everything came up roses; one man used his newfound powers of expression to deny his daughter the blessing she wanted before marrying her boyfriend. While it may seem bizarre that he’d want any ill-feeling to cloud the euphoria of regained communication, eight out of ten times the question was put forward, the answer came back “no”. Professor Chaudhary, meanwhile, was as bemused as any: “We don’t know why he said no.” He went on to relay more cheerfully: “But they got married… nothing can come between love.”
The discovery affords people hitherto trapped inside their own bodies the life-changing capacity to communicate with the world and the people around them. Perhaps, then, in recognition – nay, celebration (downright revelling!) – of this breakthrough discovery, it’s time to shed the harrowing diagnosis “locked in”. Rudimentary communication is still communication after all, and this study hopefully paves the way for bigger and better things to come.