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A New Approach to Predicting Epileptic Seizures

Torrents of data produced by implanted microelectrodes could finally yield a prediction system

2 min read

In July 2006, after suffering from epilepsy for more than 30 years, 41-year-old Sonya Hearn arrived at an unusually comfortable corner room on the eighth floor of Columbia University Medical Center, in New York City. During her 20-day stay there, she had several epileptic seizures while doctors recorded the electrical activity of her brain through electrodes leading out of an 8-centimeter hole in her head.

Such observation is standard for epilepsy patients, because it allows doctors to pinpoint the part of a patient’s brain where the seizures originate. But the data that neurologists gleaned from Hearn’s brain was anything but standard. While at Columbia, Hearn was the first to have a new kind of brain-wave recording device implanted, a device that neurologists hope will lead to a way to predict seizures—and someday, a way to prevent them.

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This Implant Turns Brain Waves Into Words

A brain-computer interface deciphers commands intended for the vocal tract

10 min read
A man using an interface, looking at a screen with words on it.

A paralyzed man who hasn’t spoken in 15 years uses a brain-computer interface that decodes his intended speech, one word at a time.

University of California, San Francisco

A computer screen shows the question “Would you like some water?” Underneath, three dots blink, followed by words that appear, one at a time: “No I am not thirsty.”

It was brain activity that made those words materialize—the brain of a man who has not spoken for more than 15 years, ever since a stroke damaged the connection between his brain and the rest of his body, leaving him mostly paralyzed. He has used many other technologies to communicate; most recently, he used a pointer attached to his baseball cap to tap out words on a touchscreen, a method that was effective but slow. He volunteered for my research group’s clinical trial at the University of California, San Francisco in hopes of pioneering a faster method. So far, he has used the brain-to-text system only during research sessions, but he wants to help develop the technology into something that people like himself could use in their everyday lives.

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