Paralyzed ALS patients use imaging to communicate

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Drawing from previous neuroimaging research grounded in functional MRI, researchers have used functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) to help patients who have intact cognitive and emotional function but are “locked in” by total motor paralysis—as by Lou Gehrig’s disease—to communicate just by thinking.

Ujwal Chaudhary, PhD, of the University of Tübingen in Germany and colleagues had their findings published online Jan. 31 in PLOS Biology.

The authors report that, in the study, four patients suffering from advanced amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) learned to answer personal questions with known answers and open questions—all requiring a “yes” or “no” thought—by using frontocentral oxygenation changes as measured, and offered as biofeedback, with fNIRS.

The researchers found the process yielded an above-chance-level correct response rate of over 70 percent.

“If replicated with ALS patients in complete locked-in state, these positive results could indicate the first step towards abolition of complete locked-in states, at least for ALS,” the authors conclude.

The study can be read in full for free.