Three-Dimensional Medical Imaging Could Improve Doctors' Ability to Diagnose Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

Laser scanners could help diagnose a birth defect that's difficult to detect

3 min read

16 November 2007—Digital facial models created from three-dimensional scans could give doctors a new diagnostic tool for identifying children with fetal alcohol spectrum disorders, a broad range of effects resulting from alcohol exposure in the womb. Although such children often have symptoms common to other developmental disorders, they require different interventions, and better diagnostics could help more kids get the right treatment.

Unlike other disorders such as Down syndrome, children with fetal alcohol syndrome—the severe form of the disorder that affects two in 1000 children in the United States but more than 20 times that in some other countries—lack genetic or biochemical markers of their condition. Affected children are often hyperactive, learn slowly, and have difficulty with social situations. But none of these symptoms is unique to prenatal alcohol exposure.

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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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