A new experiment shows how a fully paralyzed patient was able to communicate to researchers using only his thoughts. According to the study, this was made possible by a brain plant that could represent a possible breakthrough in how these patients are treated.

A study published Tuesday in the Nature Communications journal detailed how a patient who suffers from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) was able to communicate with researchers after having two 64 microelectrode implants placed in parts of their brain.

How amazing progress for patients being in a locked-in state!

"A completely paralyzed man has been able to communicate entire sentences using a device that records his brain activity."


— Berci Meskó, MD, PhD (@Berci) March 23, 2022

Dr. Ujwal Chaudhary, one of the researchers involved with the study, said that he could not believe it himself. His partner, Dr. Niels Birbaumer, described it to the New York Times as the first documented case of a patient in a "locked-in state" communicating with the aid of a brain implant.

In 2020, a 34-year-old paralyzed man whose head was connected by a cable to a computer, began to communicate electronically. He was able to type out what he wanted to eat, "curry with potato then Bolognese and potato soup," which was then read out by a synthetic voice connected to the computer.

The patient had agreed three years earlier to allow his body to be used as part of the experiment. After his approval, Dr. Jens Lehmberg, another author of the study, implanted the electrodes into the parts of the man's brain that were responsible for controlling movement.

Later in the study, the team resorted to a process called auditory neurofeedback where a patient is trained to actively manipulate their brain activity. After being asked to match a series of tonal notes, the patient was able to match them by concentrating on matching each of them, something he did successfully for days.

“That was when everything became consistent, and he could reproduce those patterns,” said Jonas Zimmermann, a neuroscientist at the Wyss Center and an author of the study.

But they did note limitations to the study, one of them being the dangers associated with attaching wired electrodes to a patient’s brain. Another was the limited focus on a single patient that necessitates further study before it becomes widely applicable.

Regardless of the current limitations, others see the ramifications of the study being wide-ranging in how vegetative patients can be helped.

“It’s a game-changer,” said Steven Laureys, a neurologist and researcher at the University of Liege in Belgium who was not involved in the study, told the New York Times. “It’s really great to see this moving forward, giving patients a voice" in making their own decisions despite being in a vegetative state.