Biotechnology has advanced tremendously in the last decade or two. This fairly new, but not quite so new, technology is called brain-computer interface (BCI) technology. With BCI technology, an individual can write on a computer and never use a keyboard. You merely need to think of what you want typed and it appears on the screen.
ALS is a motor neuron disease that progresses rather quickly. ALS is a terminal disease that attacks the motor neurons of the body. This disease will cause the body to waste away from immobility. The person eventually becomes locked in his own body without any way move, speak, or eat. Imagine having a disease like ALS and you can’t even brush a fly out of your face.
Brain-computer interfacing starts with a craniotomy; electrodes are placed on the brain’s surface. Once in place, the electrodes are able to pick up the brain activity from the nerve cells and send them to a computer. To put it simply, the computer reads brain activity (neurons that fire) and interprets the electronic messages into speech, movement, hearing, or whatever function the BCI is supposed to accomplish for the person suffering with ALS.
The interaction between man and machine has advanced over the last few years. Scientific researchers are trying to perfect BCI technology, so that surgery won’t be necessary. The electrodes would be portable and placed on a person’s scalp. More research will have to be done before the non-surgical BCI technology will be as effective as the surgically implanted electrodes.
BCI Technology helps many people with hearing disabilities
BCI hearing systems has made it possible for many deaf individuals, not helped by hearing aids, to hear for the first time in their lives. A person is connected to a mini computer pack that interprets sounds and sends them to a receptor in the brain, and the person can then experience sound. Some people who cannot hear with hearing aids have sought out the newer BCI technology. In a way, we have the ability to become cyborgs, like those we used to see on Star Trek.
Brain-computer technology uses synthetic biofeedback mechanisms people with devastating disabilities to lead healthy productive lives. The BCI works because of the way our brains are designed. The brain is composed of neurons that are connected to each other by dendrites. The long chain of neurons is almost like electrical cords; the BCI technology can be attached to the surface of the brain and then pick up the electrical impulses which are read by the BCI software.
Brain-computer technology helps people hear, helps people communicate with the world around them, whether it is on the Internet or in computer synthesized speech. Until a cure can be found, BCI technology may be able to help all people with disabilities to live healthy productive lives.
In the mean time, while much research is going on to help people with ALS with non-surgical BCI technology; scientists are trying to find out what triggers certain neurons to degenerate. Scientists are also trying to understand the chemical process within the brain and spinal cord that protect and maintain neuron health, so that they won’t degenerate in the first place.