Two patients with upper limb paralysis were able to send text messages and emails thanks to Stentrode, a small device implanted in the throat.
Published in the Journal of NeuroInterventional Surgery, the results found that Stentrode was able to wirelessly restore the transmission of brain impulses in the body, allowing patients to perform daily tasks using technology such as online banking, shopping and texting.
Professor Peter Mitchell of Royal Melbourne Hospital, director of the neurointervention service and lead investigator of the trial, said the findings were promising and showed that the device can be implanted and used safely in patients.
The device is attached to your thoughts
“This is the first time such an operation has been performed, so we cannot guarantee that there will be no problems, but in both cases the surgery went better than we hoped,” Prof. Mitchell said in a statement.
Prof. Mitchell implanted the device on the study participants through their blood vessels, near the motor cortex of the brain, in a procedure that involves a small incision in the throat.
“The procedure is not easy, in each surgery there were differences depending on the patient’s anatomy, however, in both cases, patients managed to leave the hospital only a few days later, which shows that recovery is rapid after surgery,” said Prof. Mitchell said.
Associate Professor Thomas Oxley, a neuro-interventionist and CEO of industrial research partner Synchron, said it was a breakthrough for brain-computer interfaces.
“We are pleased to report that we have delivered a fully implantable wireless technology to take home that does not require open-brain surgery that works to restore the freedoms of people with severe disabilities,” he said.
The two patients used Stentrode to control the computerized operating system, in combination with an eye-tracker to navigate the cursor. They also undertook machine-assisted learning to control mouse click actions, including zoom and left click.
The first two patients achieved an average click accuracy of 92% and 93%, respectively, and typing speeds of 14 and 20 characters per minute, with predictive text off.
The developments have been really exciting, and the patients involved have restored a level of freedom in their lives.
The researchers warn that the technology is still a few years away from being available to the public, adding that the global, multidisciplinary team is working to make this a reality.