Vivien Williams: For people who can't talk or communicate because of injury or stroke, their own body can be a prison. What if you could type on a computer screen just by thinking about the letters? Sounds impossible, right? Researchers are now able to do that in a lab. Doctors at Mayo Clinic say one day patients locked in the isolation of their condition may be freed by the power of thought.

Dean Krusienski, Ph.D., University of Florida: There is little metallic sensors that are measuring the electrical activity from the brain.

Vivien Williams: Translating brainwaves into words on a screen for people who can't communicate.

Jerry Shih, M.D., Mayo Clinic: They know what they want to say. They can still think about what they want to do. But they can't express it and this would be a technology to allow people like that to be able to communicate with the world.

Vivien Williams: People with Lou Gehrig's Disease, people who have had a stroke or people with spinal cord injuries. Mayo Clinic Dr. Jerry Shih and Dr. Dean Krusienski from the University of North Florida demonstrate the technology on this volunteer. The volunteer concentrates on a flashing letter on the computer monitor. This creates an electrical change in her brain which is sent to a computer. The computer program translates that brain signal into the letter on which she was focusing, allowing her to spell and type just by looking and thinking about the letters.

Volunteer: I spelled the word "GOAL" - "G-O-A-L."

Vivien Williams: Right now they are translating brainwaves into letters on a screen but Dr. Shih envisions a day when your thoughts will do much more.

Dr. Shih: It is certainly in the realm of possibility in the next several years that your brainwave can control an external device that is going to walk over to that pencil, pick it up, and move it in a way to write something.

Vivien Williams: Dr. Shih says that the potential is tremendous for transforming how we humans interact with our environment just with our brainwaves. Research is already underway that explores using your brainwaves, your thoughts, to move a prosthetic limb or push a wheelchair. Dr. Shih says this technology is in its infancy and my take 10 years or more before it is ready for public use.

Vivien Williams: For the Medical Edge, I'm Vivien Williams.

Aug. 19, 2023