In a first step toward helping severely paralyzed people communicate more easily, Utah researchers have shown that it is possible to translate recorded brain waves into words, using a grid of electrodes placed directly on the brain, reports the Los Angeles Times. Although they have only done it with one person and individual words can only be identified with accuracy in tests 50 percent of the time, the study provides a ray of hope for people who can now communicate only by blinking, or wiggling a fingertip. “This is quite a simple technology … based on devices that have been used in humans for 50 years now,” said bioengineer Bradley Greger of the University of Utah, the lead author of a Sept. 7 report in the Journal of Neuroengineering. “We’re pretty hopeful that, with a better design, we’ll be able to decode more words and, in two or three years, get approval for a real feasibility trial in paralyzed patients.” The technology could benefit people who have been paralyzed by stroke, Lou Gehrig’s disease, or trauma and are “locked in”—aware but unable to communicate except, perhaps, by blinking an eyelid or arduously moving a cursor to pick out letters or words from a list…

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