Locked-In ALS Patient Uses First At-Home Brain Implant For Communication

HB, a 58-year-old ALS patient, has become the first person with her condition to use an at-home brain implant for communication. Like many others with ALS, the disease has already removed her ability to talk, leading to the development of "locked-in" syndrome.

She has been using an eye-tracking system to spell out words, though that solution doesn't work for all patients as the disease progresses.

Now, an at-home brain-computer interface (BCI) developed at the Brain Center of University Medical Center Ultrecht (Netherlands) is allowing HB to wirelessly send signals to a tablet. The signals are turned into clicks which enable her to communicate by selecting items on a display.

The BCI was created by a team led by Nick Ramsay, who was focused on finding a way to create a BCI that could be used at home. During HB's first day of using it, she successfully generated a usable brain signal. Within six months, she was using the system with 85% accuracy.

Brain activity is detected using small electrodes connected to the brain through a small hole in her skull.

Now I can communicate outdoors when my eye-track computer doesn't work. I'm more confident and independent now outside. - HB

This system is far from ideal--it takes ~20 seconds to make a single on-screen selection. But, it's already an improvement over eye-tracking software in some cases, such as when trying to communicate outside.

Ramsay's team plans to test the system with another patient.