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World-first trial of a brain implant which may allow the paralysed to communicate by thinking

The first of five Victorians has been shortlisted for a groundbreaking trial of a brain implant which hopes to allow people with paralysis and advanced neurological disease to communicate using only their thoughts.

The Royal Melbourne Hospital has been granted ethics approval for the project, allowing the trial to go ahead.

Professor Peter Mitchell, neuroradiologist from the Royal Melbourne Hospital, told Ross and John he believes the device will work.

“The first step is to find out whether the device works in humans… We’ve tested the prototype in other models but not in humans,” he said.

The brain implant, dubbed ‘the Stentrode’ is a small self-expanding electrode stent, which will be placed in a vein in the head. It sits over the motor cortex, the brain’s movement control centre, where it is hoped it will extract brain signals from inside the blood vessel without the need for dangerous surgery.

Professor Mitchell said he hopes the device will eventually be able to control a wheelchair or prosthetic limb.

“But that’s shooting very high,” he said.

The more immediate achievable outcome will be to allow people with motor neuron disease to interface with a computer.

“These people may not be able to talk anymore, they may not be able to type, and this will allow them to communicate with their family and loved ones,” Professor Mitchell said.

The trial will begin later this year, and will include patients with a range of conditions such as stroke, spinal cord injury, muscular dystropy and motor neuron disease.