UC Berkeley Research Could Help Patients Unable to Speak

February 7, 2012 – 4:33 pm


An X-ray CT scan showing electrodes distributed over the brain’s temporal lobe. Credit: Adeen Flinker, UC Berkeley

Research at the University of California, Berkeley may one day help patients unable to speak due to stroke or paralysis. Neuroscientists have decoded electrical activity in the brain’s temporal lobe, the location of the auditory system, in people listening to conversation. It might be possible to apply the same principles to what people think, since hearing and sound might activate similar areas of the brain. This could eventually lead to a mind-reading device, helping patients unable to speak to communicate.

Lead author Brian N. Pasley, a post-doctoral researcher, studied 15 neurological patients by visiting them in the hospital and recording their brain activity, using electrodes that had been placed on the surfaces of the patients’ brains. The brain breaks down sound into component acoustic frequencies. By testing different computational models to match sound to the patterns of activity in the electrodes, Pasley was able to predict the words patients’ heard based on electrode recordings.

“With neuroprosthetics, people have shown that it’s possible to control movement with brain activity,” Knight said. “But that work, while not easy, is relatively simple compared to reconstructing language. This experiment takes that earlier work to a whole new level.”

Read more in a UC Berkeley press release.

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