Brain implants help man regain speech

A man who lost his speech after a serious accident had electrodes implanted which allowed him to formulate words again.

After a road accident in 2003, Pancho (this is the name given to him for this study), a 20-year-old man, loses his ability to express himself. Almost 20 years later, he is at the heart of a experience reported by the New England Journal of Medicine, which allows him to find language, via a neuroprosthesis. Explanations.

Electrodes capable of selecting words via a computer

Doctors at the University of California, San Francisco, implanted 128 electrodes in the part of the brain that controls language. This did not allow Pancho to be able to speak again, but these electrodes were connected to a computer in order to transcribe what Pancho wanted to say – words in a list of 5O, then sentences – an artificial intelligence would write them on the computer screen.

The principle of the experiment is to allow implants to recognize words spoken by the patient, it has a name: “speech neuroprosthesis”. It offers the brain the possibility of continuing to communicate when the muscles damaged by the accident can no longer do so.

Recover communication

The patient was able to utter a first sentence after 50 sessions over 81 weeks: “My family is outside”. He is now able to point out 15 to 18 words per minute, via a movement of the head which controls a mouse and selects the words on the computer screen.

The study reveals that this technique allowed Pancho to find more than just communication, he became a web developer and participates in other scientific research to restore mobility, again via electrodes, this time connected to robotic limbs.

Source : Neuroprosthesis for Decoding Speech in a Paralyzed Person with Anarthria, New England Journal of Medicine, July 15, 2021.

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