Philip O’Keefe, 62, last Dec. 23 posted a brief initial message, beginning with the classic phrase “Hello world,” on Twitter.
O’Keefe, like other ALS patients, experienced progressive paralysis, which left him unable to speak earlier this year. In April, he was implanted with a device called SBCI (Stentrode Brain Computer Interface), which is a kind of endovascular brain implant. Soon after its installation, the patient began using it to communicate.
Using the SBCI, its wearer can compose messages by thinking in words and actions, just as happens in interaction with the keys or mouse of a computer.
O’Keefe’s historic message was posted on Twitter through the account of Thomas Oxley, CEO of Synchron, the company that developed the technology. His initial message was followed by a longer text detailing how he had come to adopt the new technology. He then went on to say that he hopes his participation in the SBCI program will help pave the way for new types of technology to help people who have difficulty moving or communicating independently.
The SBCI implanted in O’Keefe’s brain was installed without opening his skull, using techniques that have been used for several years to treat people with strokes. Instead of traditional, risky surgeries, the device was inserted through his jugular vein. The tiny brain implant, which measures only 8 mm, was designed to allow people who have lost the ability to speak to communicate using only their thoughts.
The SBCI is wireless and is capable of translating the brain waves it reads into words. In addition to O’Keefe, human clinical trials have been underway in Australia for more than a year. Currently, the device has been implanted in only one other person, but more are planned.