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Medical breakthrough allows patients to tap the iPad screen with their minds

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It sounds like an absurd superpower being granted to a character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), but scientists have discovered a way for humans to send messages from their brains to an iPhone or iPad. A company called Synchron has been given the green light by the FDA to conduct clinical trials. The goal is to make it possible for people with a disease like ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, better known as Lou Gehrig’s disease) to communicate with others.

ALS prevents people from voluntarily moving their muscles, eventually making them unable to breathe, talk, write, walk or eat on their own. But with the use of a brain implant and a device called the Synchron Switch, those afflicted with the disease can send messages to an iPhone or iPad. The device works with sensors called a ‘Stentrode’, which is inserted through a blood vessel in the top of the brain. This can be done with a minimally invasive procedure instead of a more extensive neurosurgical procedure.

Just thinking about tapping his foot allows a patient from a Synchron clinical trial to tap the screen of an iPad

Once inserted, the sensors are controlled wirelessly using a device called the Synchron Switch, which is placed on the patient’s chest. The parts made by Synchron are expected to be permanent parts of the patient’s body and so far four have installed them for over a year with no issues. In total, Synchron is testing this on six patients, although retired software vendor Rodney Gorham in Melbourne, Australia, is the first to use it with a Apple device.

For example, while Gorham suffers from ALS, his iPad receives a signal like tapping his finger on the tablet’s touchscreen when he thinks of tapping his foot. Gillian Hayes, a computer science professor at the University of California, Irvine, says Synchron has made a big breakthrough. “Of course, what’s really exciting about this project is that they’ve done something really innovative and tied it into something that’s standard,” said Professor Hayes.

Tom Oxley, co-founder and CEO of Synchron, said he is “enthusiastic about iOS and Apple products because they are so ubiquitous.” Ultimately, patients who are unable to communicate because of ALS or another debilitating illness can think about what they want to say and turn the thought into a message on an iPhone or iPad. We’re still several years away from making this a smooth, seamless process. Synchron compares this to Bluetooth for the brain.

Synchron hopes to help people with ALS and other diseases communicate their thoughts

At the very least, scientists and engineers are on the right track, as they hope to make life easier for those afflicted with some of the cruellest diseases known to man. For example, ALS does not affect thinking or intelligence. What it does is prevent a person from sharing their thoughts or communicating with others. And that’s why Synchron’s technology is so important.

Imagine that because of an illness you can think but you cannot share these thoughts. Can you imagine how frustrating this would be? In the future, Synchron’s work may make it possible for patients to get rid of these feelings by letting them send their thoughts to an iPhone or iPad.

The story was posted on Saturday by UNILAD, a British internet company. Synchron is based in New York and holds 105 patents. The company says, “Our vision is to restore lives by deciphering the brain’s neural code.” You can check out the company’s website at synchron.com or by tap this link.

At present, the company is privately owned and has no shares traded on a public stock exchange. There is no word on whether an initial public offering (IPO) is in the company’s future.

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