UMC Utrecht pioneers speech computer driven by thought

The University Medical Centre Utrecht has pioneered a speech computer driven by thought. The hospital placed a brain implant in an ALS patient on a respirator, who is able to operate a speech computer by thought. Never before has a totally paralyzed patient been able to communicate independently at home.

Brain driven speech computer

Brain driven speech computer

Computer simulation

The computer is operated by electrodes in the patient’s brain which relay brain activity to a sender inserted under the collar bone. Intensive post-surgical training has made it possible for the patient to operate the speech computer by thinking about the movement of fingers when a particular letter lights up on a screen. The computer forms the words letter by letter which are then spoken by computer simulation.

Implanted electrodes

The technology has been researched by UMC Utrecht’s research institute Brain Center Rudolf Magnus for many years. Previous to this case, many institutes have tested computer operation via external electrodes on a bathing cap. This is the first time a computer has been operated via implanted electrodes under the skull.

International trial

The technique can be used by all patients with normal cognitive function who have a loss of voluntary muscular control due to diseases like ALS or conditions such as quadriplegia. The procedure is due to be carried out in two more patients, if successful researchers hope to start a larger international trial. This research has been published in the medical journal New England Journal of Medicine.