This isn’t technically TECHNOCORRECTIONS, but it’s definitely TECHNO’s cousin. I just hope it works for this kid and others, even if it is letting TECHNO’s foot and thigh in the door.
It's been described as the closest thing to being buried alive -- complete paralysis of the body, except for controlled movement of the eyes.
That's how 24-year-old Erik Ramsey has spent the last eight years of his life. He suffered a brain stem stroke after a car accident when he was 16, leaving him with "locked-in" syndrome.
This condition is not the same as other forms of paralysis where you feel nothing in the affected areas. Ramsey has 100 percent sensation all over his body. An itch can become excruciating with no way to communicate that he needs it scratched. He has frequent muscle spasms as well, which can be painful.
But new research may give Erik Ramsey the miracle he has been waiting for. Dr. Phil Kennedy, chief scientist at Neural Signals Inc., a company he founded to conduct research on the brain and communication. He came up with a revolutionary idea that he believed could turn Ramsey's thoughts into speech.
He invented an electrode that detects the neural signals in the speech motor area of Ramsey's brain. In December 2004, the electrode was implanted, and Kennedy, along with four independent labs, began decoding the signals in Ramsey's brain. The researchers asked him to think of specific vowel sounds, then mapped his brain activity. By knowing what his brain looked like when he thought each specific sound, scientists could translate the activity into a language that a voice synthesizer could read.
Dr. Frank Guenther, associate professor of cognitive and neural systems at Boston University, said his lab, one of three others pursuing neural signal translation, had a breakthrough recently:
They were able to hear the sounds Ramsey was trying to say using the decoder they built.
"That was a very exciting moment, where we knew this process of taking neural signals and driving a synthesizer was going to work," Guenther said.
In the next two months, researchers will hook up the synthesizer. Ramsey will produce his first vowel sounds then. The next phase is getting him to produce consonants, which are much harder to synthesize. Conversations, they say, are still about two years away.