Newswise — Functional near infrared spectroscopic (fNIRS) imaging (pronounced f-nears) has led to a breakthrough in communication with ALS patients who are “Locked-In,” meaning they are in advanced stages of the disease where the brain is conscious and functioning, but they are unable to move any muscles, including the eyes.

Using a wearable system developed by SUNY Downstate Medical Center researcher Dr. Randall Barbour, a team of investigators led by Professor Niels Birbaumer at the Wyss Center for Bio and Neuroengineering in Switzerland and University of Tübingen in Germany were able to measure the brain’s hemodynamic response to a series of ‘yes’ or ‘no’ questions, thus allowing these patients to communicate.

The results of the trial were published recently in PLOS Biology:

“For many years the scientific community has attempted communication with these subjects using different neurosensing technologies,” says Dr. Barbour. “Previous efforts using fMRI and EEG had their limitations, so we built our device to detect changes using near infrared spectroscopy.”

Non-invasive and wearable, the fNIRS system may eventually be incorporated into a home environment, allowing family, friends, and caregivers to communicate with the patient for the first time since the onset of this severe stage ALS.

“The portability of this device is critical for the many weeks of training needed to help subjects develop their new form of communication,” Dr. Barbour added. “The device measures the brain’s hemodynamic response, using fNIRS, and the readings are then processed using specialized algorithms to recognize when a subject is responding yes or no.”

The technology was developed by Dr. Barbour and licensed to NIRx Medical Technologies, through the SUNY Downstate technology transfer program.

Together with Professor Birbaumer, NIRx and other partners have been awarded a 3-year grant to further advance fNIRS sensing capabilities working toward the development of a version for in-home use.

This work was supported in part by DARPA project N66001-10-C-2008, New York State Department of Health, and the National Institutes of Health/National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke under Grant R42NS050007, R44NS049734, and R21NS067278. ********

SUNY Downstate Medical Center, founded in 1860, was the first medical school in the United States to bring teaching out of the lecture hall and to the patient’s bedside. A center of innovation and excellence in research and clinical service delivery, SUNY Downstate Medical Center comprises a College of Medicine, College of Nursing, College of Health Related Professions, a School of Graduate Studies, a School of Public Health, University Hospital of Brooklyn, and a multifaceted biotechnology initiative including the Downstate Biotechnology Incubator and BioBAT for early-stage and more mature companies, respectively.

SUNY Downstate ranks twelfth nationally in the number of alumni who are on the faculty of American medical schools. More physicians practicing in New York City have graduated from SUNY Downstate than from any other medical school. For more information, visit ###

Journal Link: PLOS Biology

Register for reporter access to contact details

PLOS Biology; N66001-10-C-2008; R42NS050007; R44NS049734; R21NS067278