Friday, July 30, 2010

Sniffing enables physically challenged people comunicate and steer wheelchair...!!!

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Brain scans. Ten patients, all quadriplegics,
succeeded in operating a computer and writing
messages through sniffing.(Credit: Image
courtesy of Weizmann Institute of Science)

For physically challenged people living in this fast moving world is a big challenge.That too for people with locked-in syndrome which is a case of complete body paralysis, for them life is a hell...!!! Just imagine yourself in a wheelchair 'locked-into' your body, not being able to establish any sort of communication with your loved once.It cant get worse.

Scientists have been trying to help them in any way they could.Now finally the wait for both scientists and those people with disabilities is over.Scientists have succeeded in developing a miraculous sniffing sensing device that will help these physically challenged people to live a normal life.

This amazing device is developed by Prof. Noam Sobel, electronics engineers Dr. Anton Plotkin and Aharon Weissbrod and research student Lee Sela in the Weizmann Institute's Neurobiology Department, the new system identifies changes in air pressure inside the nostrils and translates these into electrical signals.The device was tested on healthy volunteers as well as with quadriplegics and yielded successful results.The users were able to steer a wheelchair through a complex path and play computer games with speed and accuracy equivalent to a joystick or a mouse.The advantage of this device is that it can be easily mastered by anybody in a very less amount of time.

Sobel explains: "The most stirring tests were those we did with locked-in syndrome patients. These are people with unimpaired cognitive function who are completely paralyzed -- 'locked into' their bodies. With the new system, they were able to communicate with family members, and even initiate communication with the outside. Some wrote poignant messages to their loved ones, sharing with them, for the first time in a very long time, their thoughts and feelings."

Sniffing is like a motor skill which can be controlled, by the soft palate -- the flexible divider that moves to direct air in or out through the mouth or nose.This soft palate is contolled by several nerves which are directly connected to the braincase.The ability to sniff i.e, to control the movement of soft palate is preserved even is the cases of most acute paralysis.Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) lent support to the idea, showing that a number of brain areas contribute to soft palate control. This imaging revealed a significant overlap between soft palate control and the language areas of the brain.This led scientists think that the use of sniffing to communicate might be learned intuitively.

To test their theory, the researchers created a device with a sensor that fits on the nostril's opening and measures changes in air pressure. For patients on respirators, they developed a passive version of the device, which diverts airflow to the patient's nostrils. About 75% of the subjects on respirators were able to control their soft palate movement to operate the device. Initial tests, carried out with healthy volunteers, showed that the device compared favorably with a mouse or joystick for playing computer games. In the next stage, carried out in collaboration with Prof. Nachum Soroker of Loewenstein Hospital Rehabilitation Center in Raanana, quadriplegics and locked-in patients tested the device.Surprisingly they were also able to communicate through sniffing.

In addition to communication, the device can function as a sort of steering mechanism for wheelchairs: Two successive sniffs in tell it to go forward, two out mean reverse, out and then in turn it left, and in and out turn it right. After fifteen minutes of practice, a subject who is paralyzed from the neck down managed to navigate a wheelchair through a complex route -- sharp turns and all -- as well as a non-disabled volunteer.

Sniffs can be in or out, strong or shallow, long or short; and this gives the device's developers the opportunity to create a complex 'language' with multiple signals.Also this device is easy and inexpensive produce. Moreover it can be mastered by anybody within no time in comparison with other brain machine interfaces.

Sobel believes that this invention may not only bring new hope to severely disabled people, but it could be useful in other areas, for instance as a control for a 'third arm' for surgeons and pilots...!!!

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