An intracortical brain-computer interface is making the dream of restoring speech a reality
August 24, 2023
Pat Bennett, now 68, is a former human resources director and onetime equestrian who jogged daily. In 2012, she was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a progressive neurodegenerative disease that attacks neurons controlling movement, causing physical weakness and eventual paralysis.
“When you think of ALS, you think of arm and leg impact,” Bennett wrote in an interview conducted by email. “But in a group of ALS patients, it begins with speech difficulties. I am unable to speak.”
While Bennett’s brain can still formulate directions for generating those phonemes, her muscles can’t carry out the commands.
Dr. Jaimie Henderson placed two tiny sensors apiece in two separate regions — both implicated in speech production — along the surface of Bennett’s brain. The sensors are components of an intracortical brain-computer interface, or iBCI. Combined with state-of-the-art decoding software, they’re designed to translate the brain activity accompanying attempts at speech into words on a screen.
About a month after the surgery, a team of Stanford scientists began twice-weekly research sessions to train the software that was interpreting her speech. After four months, Bennett’s attempted utterances were being converted into words on a computer screen at 62 words per minute — more than three times as fast as the previous record for BCI-assisted communication.
Additional news coverage:
- CBS5 Bay Area (KPIX-TV): Studies: Brain implants can help people with paralysis 'speak' through screens faster, more accurately
- CNN Health: Brain implants can help people with paralysis ‘speak’ through screens faster, more accurately than before, new studies show
- Economic Times (IN): Revolutionizing communication: Brain implants show promise in restoring speech for patients with neural disorders
- Fierce Biotech: Two brain-computer interface systems restore speech in separate UCSF, Stanford studies
- The Times (UK): Brain implants could let stroke victims speak at near-conversation speed
- USA Today: Paralysis can rob people of their ability to speak. Now researchers hope to give it back
- Wall Street Journal: She Didn’t Speak for 18 Years. A Computer Helped Find Her Voice.
- Washington Post: Brain chip helps voiceless patient communicate at 62 words per minute