'Mind-Reading' Aussie Breakthrough Gives Patients Robbed Of Speech The Ability To Communicate

A world-first medical breakthrough could give paralysed patients who are unable to speak the ability to communicate again.

A Melbourne team has invented a paperclip-sized device which allows a computer to read their thoughts.

Stroke patients are among those who will take part in a world-first trial to test whether the device is safe for human use. People suffering motor neuron disease, muscular dystrophy and spinal cord injuries will also be involved in the ground-breaking research.

Emma Gaffy suffered a brain haemorrhage and stroke when she was 19, collapsing one day while working in a shop.

"Firstly I lost the power to speak and then I had a seizure, then I woke up probably two weeks later from a coma," she told 10 News First.

For three months she lay in a hospital bed, paralysed and unable to talk.

"You want to say 'I can understand you, I know what's going on' and you just literally can't."

Emma Gaffy was in hospital for three months after her brain haemorrhage. Photo: Supplied.

But the new trial in Melbourne -- with a touch of science fiction about it -- is promising hope of communication for those robbed of speech by disease or injury.

The project is a collaboration between the Royal Melbourne Hospital, The University of Melbourne and the Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health, led by Professor Peter Mitchell, a neurointervention surgeon at The Royal Melbourne Hospital.

"It's an enormous advance for Australia and it’s an absolute credit to the team that’s behind it to bring it this far," Mitchell said.

Associate Professor Nicolas Opie, head of Vascular Bionics Laboratory at The University of Melbourne, said the new technology is allowing computers to read patients' thoughts.

Professor Nicholas Opie (L) and Professor Peter Mitchell, holding the Stentrode device. Photo: 10 News First.

"Their brains are still active, they're still thinking the same way, the signals just can't get out because they're blocked by spinal cord injury or other disease," Opie said.

"We're putting a device in that can record this information, translate it into something that is meaningful for a computer and then essentially bypass the damaged part so they can control a computer just with their minds."

The technology works much like a car Bluetooth kit. A stent the size of a paperclip is placed inside the brain via a small incision in the neck.

Signals are then transmitted to a device implanted near the collarbone, then wirelessly to a computer, enabling patients to express their thoughts.

The device is unique because it's implanted during a day procedure without open brain surgery, thereby reducing the patient's risk of infection, internal bleeding and seizure.

"It will give independence back to so many people trapped inside their bodies," Gaffy said.

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