Sniff detector” could allow locked-in patients to communicate by breathing


 

Scientists at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel, are testing a “sniff detector” that picks up pressure changes in the nasal cavity of the wearer and converts them into electrical signals. The device can be connected to specially-designed software and used to move a computer cursor or drive a wheelchair.

The device was tested on three people with locked-in syndrome, a paralysing condition where a fully intact mind is “locked” inside a paralysed body. One of them, a 51-year-old woman left unable to move, blink or speak following a stroke, was able to communicate with her family for the first time. She spent 19 days learning how to produce a sniff on demand, practising 20 minutes each day, and was able to write her family a message. To this day, it is the only way she is able to communicate.

Another patient, a man who had been “locked in” for 18 years after a car accident, was able to write his own name after less than 20 minutes of using the device. The detector also enabled eleven other quadriplegics to drive a wheelchair and surf the internet.

The device was developed almost by accident by Noam Sobel, a neurobiologist at the Weizmann Institute. Dr Sobel told Discover Magazine: “we noticed that sniffs are a very good and fast trigger. It then simply dawned on us that instead of triggering odour, we could trigger anything: letters in a text writer or turns of a wheelchair. The rest just flowed or rather, rushed from there.”

Niels Birbaumer, at the University of Tubingen in Germany, told New Scientist that he was doubtful that the detector would work for fully locked-in patients. He said they would not have control of their muscular system to operate the device. Dr Sobel replied that the system was still in its developmental stages. ~ London Telegraph, Jul 27




MORE ON THESE TOPICS | disability, locked-in syndrome

This article is published by Jared Yee and BioEdge under a Creative Commons licence. You may republish it or translate it free of charge with attribution for non-commercial purposes following these guidelines. If you teach at a university we ask that your department make a donation. Commercial media must contact us for permission and fees. Some articles on this site are published under different terms.

 
 Search BioEdge

 Subscribe to BioEdge newsletter
rss Subscribe to BioEdge RSS feed

 
comments powered by Disqus