UC Davis Health is recruiting participants for a clinical trial to develop new approaches for restoring speech through a brain-computer interface.

The BrainGate2 clinical trial aims to build a ‘neurological prosthesis’ to restore speech for people with neurological injuries or progressive neurological diseases, including amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), spinal cord injury and stroke.

With this clinical trial, the health centre has joined BrainGate, a consortium of universities and academic medical centres, to study how brain-computer interfaces can be used to restore neurological function in paralysis patients.

BrainGate focuses on using the technology, which is referred to as brain-machine interfaces or neuroprostheses, to transform thoughts into actions for paralysed individuals.

The UC Davis researchers are focused on the condition of anarthria, where people want to speak but are unable to control their vocal cords or mouth to produce audible speech.

In the BrainGate2 clinical trial, the researchers aim to read the brain signals meant for moving the muscles involved in speaking such as the tongue, jaw, lips, voice box, and diaphragm.

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This will be used to translate the person’s intended speech into comprehensible speech, which will be produced by a computer.

UC Davis noted that the new technology is just being developed for communicating the signals that are produced in the person’s brain as part of intentional speech.

UC Davis Department of Neurological Surgery assistant professor Sergey Stavisky said: “By implanting electrodes that can record from individual brain cells involved in generating speech, we hope we can enable the participants to communicate by just trying to speak.”

The participants of the study will be implanted with specialised devices, called Utah Arrays, in the region of their brain that produces speech.

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has granted permission for these devices to be tested in clinical studies.

The devices will obtain impulses from the nerve cells and carry them to two small metal pedestals on top of the patient’s head.

From the pedestals, the signals can be connected to a computer.

The researchers will use advanced machine-learning methods to create sophisticated computer algorithms that will turn the signals from the nerve cells into intended speech.

These algorithms are expected to have the ability to precisely decode the neural patterns into speech.

The computer-decoded speech will then be integrated with text-generating or synthetic speech-generating devices.

The BrainGate research groups are currently evaluating and enhancing advanced medical devices that can use the recent progress in computing and neuroscience to provide new treatment methods for paralysis patients.