The need to communicate with others, is an essential part of one's life and the ability to effectively communicate gets hampered in those suffering from clinical conditions, like in the case of a patient of locked-in syndrome (LIS). Here, although a patient is awake and aware of his surroundings, he cannot move or even communicate, for that matter, since almost all his voluntary muscles, except for his eyes have been paralyzed. Now, if the latest research put forth by a team of researchers at the Maastricht University in The Netherlands is the one to go by then there may be hope at hand. The team of researchers have developed what they call a spelling device based on fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging).


There is hope now..

This latest technology follows a rather successful application of brain-computer interfaces (BCIs) based on electroencephalography (EEG). According to a post on Current Biology, “..BCIs based on electroencephalography (EEG) have already been applied successfully to concerned patients. However, not all patients achieve proficiency in EEG-based BCI control. Thus, more recently, hemodynamic brain signals have also been explored for BCI purposes.

The technique, as explained in this report, reads – “By exploiting spatiotemporal characteristics of hemodynamic 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.” What is also noteworthy here is that this letter decoding happens in real-time, therefore it allows “back-and-forth” communication in one scanning session. 

As part of the study, participants were required to select letters on a screen, leading to letter encoding. Participants were asked to perform specific mental tasks for specific characters for a particular period of time. In this way, 27 varied brain patters were produced –  each corresponding to each letter of the alphabet system and one for a space bar. Using this technique takes only some amount of pretraining.

These factors make it a great candidate for medical use. It will help in “diagnostics and establishing short-term communication with nonresponsive and severely motor-impaired patients.

Cover image credit: Getty Images

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