Paralyzed man uses mind to tweet message thanks to tiny brain implant

A paralyzed man in Australia has become the first person to tweet a message via direct thought thanks to a tiny brain implant the size of a paperclip.

Philip O’Keefe, 62, who suffers from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) which has left him unable to move his upper limbs, tweeted: ‘No need for keystrokes or voices. I created this tweet just by thinking it.’ #helloworldbci

He was diagnosed with ALS, a form of Motor Neurone Disease, in 2015, and successfully turned his direct thought to text using the Stentrode brain computer interface (BCI) on December 23. 

The interface, created by California-based Synchron – a neurovascular bioelectronics medicine company – allows patients to carry out tasks on a computer just by using their mind.    

'When I first heard about this technology, I knew how much independence it could give back to me. The system is astonishing, it's like learning to ride a bike - it takes practice, but once you're rolling, it becomes natural,' said Mr O'Keefe

Mr O’Keefe said: ‘When I first heard about this technology, I knew how much independence it could give back to me. 

‘The system is astonishing, it’s like learning to ride a bike – it takes practice, but once you’re rolling, it becomes natural.

‘Now, I just think about where on the computer I want to click, and I can email, bank, shop, and now message the world via Twitter.’

To share the news, he took over the Twitter handle of Synchron CEO, Thomas Oxley, using the hashtag #HelloWorldBCI. 

Mr O’Keefe’s goal was to share his experience of regaining independence with the world and offer inspiration for the future.

‘My hope is that I’m paving the way for people to tweet through thoughts,’ was his closing statement.

He received the brain computer interface in April 2020 following progressive paralysis caused by ALS which left him unable to engage in work-related or other independent activities. 

The Synchron team uses blood vessels as a natural highway to the brain, which are laced with sensors that record activity. The Stentrode device implanted in the brain measures 40mm in length

He has since been using the technology to reconnect with his family and business colleagues – continuing email exchanges and staying actively involved in his consultancy and other business projects.

Mr Oxley said: ‘These fun holiday tweets are actually an important moment for the field of implantable brain computer interfaces. 

‘They highlight the connection, hope and freedom that BCIs give to people like Phil who have had so much of their functional independence taken away due to debilitating paralysis.

‘We look forward to advancing our brain computer interface, Stentrode, in the first US in-human study next year.’ 

The successful human trials come at a time that many companies are working tirelessly to develop the first brain chip – specifically Elon Musk’s Neuralink, which has only demonstrated its device in a pig.

The 40mm-long Stentrode device is small and flexible, allowing it to safely pass through curving blood vessels in the brain.

The team notes the procedure is similar to that of a pacemaker and does not require open brain surgery.

Once the chip is implanted, sensors are laid through the vessels and inserted into an internal telemetry unit that connects to a wireless transmitter taped to the patient’s chest.

Brain activity is collected by the sensors, which are sent to the transmitter that interprets them into computer tasks.

The system also includes an eye-tracker to navigate the cursor on the computer screen.

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