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“It’s special to be the first,” says HB, who is 58 years old and wishes to remain anonymous. She was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) in 2008. The disease ravages nerve cells, leaving people unable to control their bodies. Within a couple of years of diagnosis, HB had lost the ability to breathe and required a ventilator. “She is almost completely locked in,” says Nick Ramsey at the Brain Center of University Medical Center Utrecht in the Netherlands.

When Ramsey met her, the woman relied on an eye-tracking device to communicate. The device allows her to choose letters on a screen to spell out words, but may not work forever – one in three people with ALS lose the ability to move their eyes. However, teams around the world have been working to develop devices that are controlled directly by the brain to help people like HB.

These devices work by reading brain activity and translating it into a signal that can control a computer or a robotic limb, for example. But so far, it has been difficult to make these devices fit into people’s daily lives. They tend to need recalibrating by a team of engineers on a daily basis, and many are so complex that they cannot work wirelessly.

“They have not actually been useful for anyone,” says Ramsey. “We thought, let’s make it simple and affordable for a patient who really needs it,” says Ramsey.

… Read More

Image: By Richard A. Normann – US Patent #5,215,088, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6561716

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