Researchers at Western University have successfully used neuroimaging technology to read the brains' activity when conveying "yes" or "no" answers.
The team from the Brain and Mind Institute had their research published today in the Journal of Neuroscience and we reached out to Dr. Lorina Naci about these findings. She's the lead researcher on the project which is bound to have broad, lasting implications and sure to provoke thought. Naci described this new method developed which was developed to communicate with patients who are placed in MRI scanners. While in a magnetic resonance imaging scanner, the patient cannot move or speak during the duration of the scan, which often take more than an hour.
Not only will it make life easier for people enclosed in the MRIs, but the research is likely to be taken a step further and used to scan the brains of people in persistent vegetative states. "The ultimate goal is to use this for patients who are absolutely behaviorally non-responsive due to brain injuries," she said. "So, a number of patients, [those] with brain damage either from a car accident or other unfortunate circumstances, they go into a [...] vegetative state where they are thought to not have any cognition or awareness of themselves. What we found was if we put these patients into the scanner, with the right tools, sometimes we're able to communicate with them and establish that they do have awareness."
Although she can't get into any details at the moment, Dr. Naci said there is more research going on into further applications of this technology, in hopes that one day people will be able to communicate with loved ones that otherwise appear uncommunicative. She told us, "We are working with patients at the moment, and we have some new results that will hopefully hit the press soon - that is the hope. This is a pretty unique opportunity. A large number of patients who have brain injuries do have the opportunity to undergo a functional scan at some point, so I do think this will have pretty broad implications once we show this works with [more] patients."