After an attempt to read mind using a non-invasive brain-computer interface, four locked-in patients who are unable to speak, move or blink have reported they are “happy” despite their extreme condition.
The technique could revolutionize the lives of those living with completely locked-in syndrome, according to a study led by Professor Niels Birbaumer from the Wyss Centre for Bio and Neuroengineering in Switzerland.
A non-invasive brain-computer interface detected their responses by measuring changes in blood oxygen levels in the brain.
Four patients with ALS were asked personal questions by researchers to known answers and open questions that needed “yes” or “no”
including: “Your husband’s name is Joachim?” and “Are you happy?”. They found the questions elicited correct responses
in seventy per cent of the trials.
“The striking results overturn my own theory that people with completely locked-in syndrome are not capable of communication,” said Birbaumer.
“We found that all four patients we tested were able to answer the personal questions we asked them, using their
thoughts alone. If we can replicate this study in more patients, I believe we could restore useful communication in
completely locked-in states for people with motor neuron diseases,” he said.
The question “Are you happy?” resulted in a consistent “yes” response from the four people, repeated over weeks of
“We were initially surprised at the positive responses when we questioned the four completely locked-in patients
about their quality of life. All four had accepted artificial ventilation in order to sustain their life, when breathing
became impossible; thus, in a sense, they had already chosen to live,” Birbaumer added.
The research was published in the journal PLOS Biology.