Stentrode Brain Implant Brings ALS Patients Online

An advanced piece of technology arrived around six years ago meant to help individuals living with the debilitating motor function disease ALS get more out of their day-to-day lives. The Stentrode device, a first-of-its-kind brain implant, is essentially a mind-reading brain-to-computer interface that is currently in the heads of fewer than 40 people across the globe. Users simply think about specific body movements, and the Stentrode does its best to replicate what has been pictured.

These neurological signals are transmitted via a wire into the chest, where a pacemaker-sized, Bluetooth-powered sensor relays signals from the brain to a computer. "Whatever you can do on a computer, I can do," said one user in Melbourne, Australia who had his Stentrode implanted in mid-2020. "At this stage, I am a bit slower than you would be, but there is the ability to do almost anything — if I want to."
The device just recently hit the U.S. after a protracted period of regulatory tug-of-war between manufacturer Synchron and the FDA. In August, the first American patient with ALS had his Stentrode installed. Though he cannot move his arms or legs and is unable to speak normally without assistance, he can now use the interface to send email greetings and even perform medical searches on Google, with these tasks taking him approximately 90 seconds each.

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Some users can leverage the Stentrode to partake in more ambitious activities such as gaming, online shopping, and texting.

The technology in play here is also being considered for incorporation into treatments for the millions of paralyzed people who’ve suffered strokes or been in severe car accidents, in addition to those with diseases that affect basic bodily functions, such as Parkinson’s.