Scientists develop a way of communicating with patients who are totally paralysed and unable to talk by measuring the blood oxygen levels in their brains to decipher their thoughts. Stuart McDill reports.
BROADCAST AND DIGITAL RESTRICTIONS~*NONE* Broadcasters: NONE Digital: *NONE*~ MK - we can't use her name - just her initials - has been trapped in her totally paralysed body for two years. Complete locked in syndrome has left her unable to even blink. But researchers in Geneva have found a way to decipher her thoughts. They spent 15 years monitoring blood oxygen levels in the brain - and can now read the physiological impact of locked-in patients' thoughts. SOUNDBITE (English) PROFESSOR JOHN DONOGHUE, WYSS CENTER FOR BIO AND NEUROENGINEERING DIRECTOR, SAYING: "This study shows that in fact you can communicate and these people are thinking, and they are able to answer quite complex questions." The technique measures blood oxygenation and electrical activity in the brain while patients are asked questions. SOUNDBITE (English) PROFESSOR NIELS BIRBAUMER, WYSS CENTRE NEUROSCIENTIST, SAYING: "The machine records the blood flow during that thought, and calculates how the blood flow changes during 'yes', and during 'no' and after a while, it has, the computer develops an idea, a pattern, of the blood flow during a 'yes' and during a 'no' and so after a while, we know what the patient is thinking when he thinks 'yes' or when he thinks 'no'." Here MK - one of four in the trial - is asked 'is your mother's name Maggie?' The brain-computer interface learns how the brain responds - allowing it to calculate an answer. Questions with known answers are calculated correctly seventy percent of the time. SOUNDBITE (English) PROFESSOR NIELS BIRBAUMER, WYSS CENTRE NEUROSCIENTIST, SAYING: "So far thanks to God, there was not a single patient who said he doesn't want to live." Counter to expectations, all four patients consistently answered yes when asked 'are you happy?' The team hopes to one day help those with paralysis resulting from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or ALS, stroke, or spinal cord injury. They say it could transform lives, allowing completely locked-in patients to express feelings and opinion to loved ones and carers.