Mind-reading superpower was once just a fantasy. With this new technology, which experts claim has the ability to read people's minds, that absurd reverie may soon turn into reality.
The groundbreaking device allows paralysed patients, who have not been able to speak for years, to answer “yes” or “no” to questions by analyzing patterns in their brain activity. The findings are published in the journal Plos Biology
Experts gathered “Locked-in”
patients who are diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis
, or ALS, a progressive neurodegenerative disease which leaves people totally paralysed, but still aware and able to think. These people are aged 24 to 76, were trained to use the system more than a year.
“It’s the first sign that completely locked-in syndrome may be abolished forever, because with all of these patients, we can now ask them the most critical questions in life,” said Niels Birbaumer, a neuroscientist who led the research at the University of Tübingen in a statement.
“This is the first time we’ve been able to establish reliable communication with these patients and I think that is important for them and their families,” he added. “I can say that after 30 years of trying to achieve this, it was one of the most satisfying moments of my life when it worked.”
To train the patients about the system, doctors asked them a series of simple questions that can be asnwered with “yes” or “no”. Such as, “Your husband’s name is Joachim” and “Berlin is the capital of France.”
During the sessions, the patients wore a cap. This head gear uses infrared light to spot variations in blood flow in different regions of the brain. As they answered the questions, a computer system connected to the cap learned to distinguish the blood flow patterns for “yes” and “no".
After patients completed at least 70% of the training questions, the doctors asked more personal questions. Surprisingly, all four patients indicated that they were “happy” with life. Proving that people with locked-in syndrome might not be the living hell many presume it to be.
“The results of this study suggest that we are on the right track,” he said.
“Finding a portable, cost-effective and reliable means for communicating with patients who are entirely physically non-responsive is the holy grail for those of us working in this field. If these findings can be replicated in a larger group of patients they suggest that fNIRS may be the answer.
“One of the most surprising outcomes of this study is that these patients reported being ‘happy’ despite being physically locked-in and incapable of expressing themselves on a day-to-day basis, suggesting that our preconceived notions about what we might think if the worst was to happen are false. Indeed, previous research has shown that most locked-in patients are actually reasonably satisfied with their quality of life,” he added.