BERKELEY (CBS 5) – New research from the Bay Area has raised the possibility that individuals who are paralyzed, or victims of health conditions such as strokes and Lou Gehrig’s disease may be able to speak in the future.

Researchers at U.C. Berkeley, along with researchers at Stanford, the University of Maryland and Johns Hopkins, have conducted cognitive studies to measure words as brain activity.

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This collaboration required the help of patients suffering from seizures. The subjects underwent brain surgery during which surgeons placed electrodes on the surface of the patients’ brain cortex. The electrodes allowed doctors to determine where in the brain the seizures where taking place.

Participants were then observed for a week. During that time the researchers were able to record brain activity detected by the implanted electrodes as the patients heard short conversations.

“When you hear a sound the brain has a particular pattern of activity so we have to figure out how we translate that pattern of activity into the sound,” said Brian Pasley, PhD, UC Berkeley Lead Author. “We have to determine the relationship between these electrical signals we are measuring and the actual stimulus that the person is listening to.”

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The sounds the research computer model has made are not quite discernible as regular speech. UC Berkeley Researcher Brian Pasley was the lead author of the report published in the journal PLoS BIOLOGY. He has characterized the synthesized brain waves into sound as “our best guess, essentially.”

Still, the future possibility of restoring speech to those who have lost the ability to speak, remains a tantalizing prospect, even though Pasley has said that day is decades away.

“We have a lot more basic science to do,” said Pasley. “But this is a good first start toward there.”


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