Great News – Marriage of Tech and Brainpower Empowers Injured People

Journal of Accident and Emergency Medicine for Tort Victims

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Many personal injury attorneys we deal with here at JNLAEM call upon us for expert witnesses.  Also, this is particularly the case in brain injury cases. A brain is a lot like a desktop computer. For example, if you drop it, or bang it up, there is always a risk of messing up the internals. So impact injuries are akin to the dreaded blue screens of death and error messages.

Unlike a computer, a human brain cannot get repaired or replaced with the same ease. , at least until now perhaps. In this story, we will cover the latest tech that may just be able to help car accident victims with head injuries. Consequently, this advance could do more than just help those patients suffering from vertigo. Although we have seen many advances in science, we still have not seen a spinal cord repaired. Well, at least we have not seen a spine repaired enough to allow quadriplegic victims to walk. But we do know that we are on the way there.


The Injured Brain Blessed with Computing Power

Case in point is patient T6. This sufferer had the best moments of her life when she got blessed with extraordinary powers. So this power was that of controlling a computer tablet with her brain in 2014. She moved to the world of Android from a system of the 1980s that she had been on for several years. Also, patient T6 suffers from a disease called Lou Gehrig’s disease. Furthermore, this is also known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. Because of her condition, this lady had just crossed the 50 mark on age scale. Also, she cannot move, talk or communicate with normal people.  Consequently, her whole body starting from her neck had become paralyzed.

Thus, it was a challenge for experts in technology to make her communicate with the world outside her brain. This could have become possible by using brain-machine interfaces. There are millions of people in the world with this disease. Mostly, its onset comes when a person receives an injury to the spinal cord. Hence, these people cannot communicate with the people because they can’t speak. Sometimes they cannot even write or perform communication tasks. So their thoughts and intentions are only limited to their brains. Hence, no one in the outside world ever knows what they are trying to say or communicate.

The Technology Of Connecting Brain With Computer

Nearly 20 years ago we saw a boost in the brain-machine interface industry. The purpose of these efforts was to come up with a device that could allow these people to communicate. We have seen several improvements in this technology. There have been some revolutionary creations, but their impracticality made those devices less useful. We can talk about the eye and head tracking devices that were created to help these people communicate with the outside world using the signals in their heads or movements of their eyeballs. The movement controlled the movement of the mouse pointer on the screen.

The problem with eye-tracking devices was that they were not very accurate in their outputs. In addition to that, they were not very practical because they tired the users’ eyes. The custom hardware required for these devices to run made them extremely expensive. This meant that only the patients coming from affluent backgrounds could afford these devices.

Paul Nuyujukian is a physician and neuro-engineer coming from Stanford University. He was delivering his talk at 2015 Society for Neuroscience annual conference when he mentioned that one of the aims of his team and other people working on the same task was to make the technology affordable enough to be easily available in clinics. This effort led them to the idea of neural prostheses. The purpose of neural prostheses was to go beyond eye tracking and to come up with a system that could allow the brain to communicate with the computer without the patient ever having to use any other organ like the eye.

Brain Decoding Language is the Future

This could be done by using the signals being produced by the brain and decoding them into the language that computer could understand as quickly as possible. Dr. Nuyujukian said that eye-tracking technology was much inferior compared to this technology, but again the problem with this technology is its high cost. However, his team did not lose their spirit, and with patient T6 they set out to make it possible for them to come up with an affordable technology that could allow the patients to communicate with the computer by using just their brains.

The patient T6 had to become a part of the BrainGate clinical trials, which she did. After she agreed for the trials, the doctors and engineers implanted her brain with a 100-channel electrode array. This unit was inserted in the part of her brain that controlled the movement of her body i.e. the left side. While this was happening, a custom designed keyboard was also under work by a Stanford subdivision. The purpose of this keyboard was to capture the pulses in the brain and decode them to allow patients to type words by simply thinking about them.

Enter the Neural Electrode Signal

So the neural prosthesis, in this case, received signals from the electrodes as she laid her eyes on a particular letter on the screen. After these signals were passed the cursor moved to the letter she wanted to type. This prototype was used on patient T6, but despite its state of the art interface and accuracy, it could not become practical because the patient got drained of using this method and many a time she had to correct her words. According to Dr. Nuyujukian, they wanted to remove the need of electrodes from the equation and also wanted the design of the whole system to look like a modern design.

The Revelation

The revelation came when the team realized that the kind of point and click system they were working on was not much different from the workings of the touchscreens used in the world today. After this thought, they went on to design a device with touchscreen features. Before they could start working on their own device that came up with another bright idea that they could get such devices from the market because they were going to work on something that was already there. Nexus 9 tablet was their choice of the apparatus.

They started working on the setup and connecting it with Nexus 9 tablet. This job was much easier than they had expected and in less than a year they were able to complete their work on the system. The connection between their setup and the tablet was made using the Bluetooth that was already there on the device. Dr. Nuyujukian explains that neural prosthetics send messages to the tablet that are decoded by the tablet as if someone was using a Bluetooth mouse attached to the device. Patient T6 was asked to enjoy for some time on an application on a website.

The System Worked Using Video Clips of the T6

Here, the team presented the success of their work in the form of short movie clips. So these are what they shot as the patient interacted with the system for the first time. Furthermore, in these video clips patient T6 could had been seen using Google and the onscreen keyboard. She did so with full efficiency. Furthermore, she even clicked on tiny URLs on the screen using just the power of her brain. Also, gardening was her favorite subject. So this is what she performed most of the searches for on Google search engine. Also, Dr. Nuyujukian said that it is quite exciting. So he was very pleased to see that she can now use whatever app she likes from the Android app store.

But at this point the team thinks that their system should keep working without any problems. They want to iron out potential problems for at least two years. But they don’t think this is enough time for their system to stay up.  So they are going to work on it to make it more durable and long lasting. Also, Dr. Nuyujukian mentioned all they had to use was hardware that already existed. Furthermore, this is stuff already in the market. So using the system, his team has proven their new innovation can get put to use by clinics as well. Thus, the team is happy with their recent achievement but is not going to stop making the system better.

Click Through Brain Injury Repair is the Future?

Dr. Nuyujukian’s team is thinking of infusing more features into their technology. They propose doing this by allowing patients to click and browse through various applications.  Also, it lets them perform actions like dragging and dropping the items on the screen. Hence, it is multi-touch. Thus, they are also looking to expand their program. Also, they wish to make it available to all BrainGate clinical facilities.

So they intend to place the system on other operating systems.  But currently, it is only available on Android. Thus, Dr. Nuyujukian says that they want their system to be complete enough. So he is saying he wants to give patients access to all the cool features. At the very least, he wants patients to use what uninjured people have on their devices. So at the end of the day, he said that this is only a small step. Ultimately, it is a great move in the direction of brain-controlled communication. Hence, it is a huge leap forward for patients who get paralyzed like patient T6.

Thus, car accident victims and PI attorneys have a new goal to work towards. Also, this can help the defense when mitigating personal injury damages. Because of this, the less affected a patient is by their condition, the more judicially economic the outcome. So if you or someone you know suffered a brain injury in a car accident. Furthermore, it makes sense to talk about this program as a form of damages mitigation. Let us know about your story.