Millions of people around the world are unable to use digital technology because of physical impairments. However, what if they could send a text or email using only their thoughts? It may sound like wishful thinking, but new technology currently in clinical trials could make this a reality, according to researchers.
At his home in Melbourne, Australia, 62-year-old Philip O’Keefe struggles to do the simple things that many of us take for granted — like getting dressed, washing and feeding himself — after amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) took away his ability to control his hands and body.
In April of 2020, O’Keefe became one of the first patients to receive a Stentrode endovascular brain computer interface implant. Dr. Thomas Oxley, CEO of New York City-based Synchron, is leading the development of the device.
“The clinical study that we’re running is purely for digital device control for people whose hands no longer control digital devices,” Oxley said.
Inserted through the jugular vein, the device is implanted near the area of the brain that controls movement. Signals captured by a receiver in the chest are sent wirelessly to a device that decodes thoughts into commands for a digital device.
“I thought, ‘this is science fiction type stuff,'” O’Keefe said.
Oxley told CBS News, “We’ve figured out how to deliver the sensors into the brain without open brain surgery. That’s the huge advance here.”
O’Keefe demonstrated his computer skills to CBS News by writing a note, his thoughts focused on a mouse clicking letter by letter.
“I can sort my emails. I can surf the web,” O’Keefe said.
Clinical trials are ongoing, and so far, five people have received the implant, including one in New York City.
“This gave me a reason to keep on living,” O’Keefe said. “And it’s just been the most exciting two years of my life.”