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For hundreds of thousands of people living across the globe, communication isn’t as straightforward as moving your mouth or raising a hand. In the U.S., nearly 30,000 people live with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis—better known as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease. It’s a terrifying and incurable disease that progressively robs affected individuals of their ability to move, interact, and communicate.
While there are assistive communication devices (think physicist Stephen Hawking’s speech-generating device with its iconic robotic drawl) that rely on eye or facial muscle movement, they eventually fail for some people who become completely paralyzed. ALS patients in this locked-in state can hear and understand what’s going around them but are powerless to respond.
The good news, though, is that a team of scientists is fixing to change that. In a new study published Tuesday in the journal Nature Communications, Swiss and German researchers helped a 34-year-old man with severe ALS to communicate through a brain-computer interface (BCI) implanted in his brain. This new approach aims to revolutionize communication devices for patients with ALS and potentially other neurological disorders that severely impair speech and other movements.
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