|Adam, in all his glory!|
Adam does communicate with a grimace, with a groan, with a spit, with a closing of his eyes and he's getting better on closing his eyes on command. He also contracts more tightly when he's irritated. I want more...that's my wish! Of course, I want the other stuff, and the daily ABR is addressing the structure of his body. I want more! So I keep searching.
I have been closely examining and talking with researchers at Brain Gate which is a collaborative effort of Massachusetts General Hospital and Brown University. Clinical trials have been on going with certain populations who are essentially "locked in" since 2006. The technology is not quite there but remarkable progress is being made. Here is a brief description of this type of Brain-Computer Interface:
A long-term goal of the BrainGate research team is to create a system that, quite literally, turns thought into action – and is useful to people with neurologic disease or injury, or limb loss. Currently, the system consists of a “sensor” (a device implanted in the brain that records signals directly related to imagined limb movement); a “decoder” (a set of computers and embedded software that turns the brain signals into a useful command for an external device); and, the external device – which could be a standard computer desktop or other communication device, a powered wheelchair, a prosthetic or robotic limb, or, in the future, a functional electrical stimulation device that can move paralyzed limbs directly. The following link described in detail the latest research: Here. Or here's a New York Times article about a man using thoughts to control a robot. Also a "60 Minutes" episode about using thoughts to control movement.
The sensor which is implanted is about the size of a baby asprin. They are presently working on a wireless technology and refining the computer algorithms which translate thought via the electrical signals of the motor cortex into action. Thought, plain and simple intention, can control computer screens, appliances, and robotic arms which may be near the kid. An example of the technology would be if Adam wanted a drink, he thinks of his hand picking up a glass of beer and bringing it to his lips. His nearby robotic arm would be directed to perform the action. If he wanted to be left alone, he could think the thought, thoughts read by computer to display a keyboard and he could think letters or pictures or commands.
The technology is not here quite yet, but steady progress is being made to make it a reality. This is the stuff of which dreams are made and the technology is not in the very distant future. It is around the corner.
The clinical studies are pretty much limited to brain stem stroke, ALS, muscular dystrophy, cervical spinal injury and motor neuron diseases. The unit is expecting to seek FDA approval in the near future to include other "locked in" populations. A limitation is that you have to reside within 3 hours of MGH...thankfully we are an hour away. So contacts have been made and we're on a list for future clinical trial consideration. Just imagine the potential!
Remember when we folks marveled at Buck Rogers, Jules Verne and H.G. Wells (younger parents won't have a clue about these guys). I really believe that the future is here and will open up worlds for the disabled which were unimaginable yesterday.