In addition to not being able to move limb, in severe quadraplegia,  motor-disabled patients can become unable to communicate verbally too, since voice is the result of neuromotorial ability. Those disabled individuals are often fully conscious and awake, making their situation prison like.

An amazing development of fMRI technology has crossed the bridge between brain activity and social communication [1].  Reading brain electrical activity through electroencephalography already has allowed some patients communication through conversion of such electrical patterns to action such as driving a wheelchair or moving a robotic arm [2]. But spelling has prove more elusive until now, with fMRI analysis.

Then, quoting [1]:

“….By exploiting spatiotemporal characteristics of hemodynamic [blood circulation dynamics] responses, evoked by performing differently timed mental imagery tasks, our novel letter encoding technique allows translating any freely chosen answer (letter-by-letter) into reliable and differentiable single-trial fMRI signals....”

fMRI of Brain

Well, this “letter encoding technique” does not look trivial….The illustration above, extracted from the research article shows the association of a thought letter to a fMRI pattern.

Such an association is nothing short of amazing.  Too good to be true? I hope not…

 

 

Principles of the fMRI based spelling enabler (From Current Biology [1])

 

More anecdotal details can be found in Scientific American [4]

A note of caution: The technique is really in its infancy, as can attest the YouTube video below. A little painful to watch…

 

 

We are getting closer to the connection Mind Body…. 

All benign, rehabilitation oriented work?

Maybe not… Watch the  Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) very interested in the technology [4]. Think of it , in the same way the mind of a disabled person can be read, enabling him to communicate, the mind of an able person is getting closer to be read too.

This has the potential to put the polygraph to shame…..

 

Sources:

  1. Current Biology ; “A Real-Time fMRI-Based Spelling Device Immediately Enabling Robust Motor-Independent Communication”; 2012
  2. medinewsdigest ; “The science behind executing a human brain’s will through a robotic arm” ; may 2012
  3. medinewsdigest ; “Cognitive rehabilitation techniques in Multiple Sclerosis” ; jan 2012
  4. Scientific American ; June 2012
  5. DARPA ; “THE MARYLAND LARGE-SCALE INTEGRATED NEUROCOGNITIVE ARCHITECTURE ; 2008
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