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Israeli docs 'sniff' new tech to help severely disabled to communicate and move.

Israeli doctors have devised a "sniffing" controller device using a new technology termed as "sniffing technology" for people with severe disabilities to use their noses to write, surf the Internet and navigate their wheelchairs.

The device measures pressure changes in the nose when a person breathes in and out, which then translates into electrical signals.

Doctors found that tested users, both healthy and quadriplegic, were able to easily play computer game with almost the same speed of a mouse or joystick and also drive a wheelchair around a complex.

Noam Sobel, a professor of neurobiology at Weizmann Institute in Rehovot, Israel, was quoted as saying the new system allowed people with such disabilities to communicate with family members and initiate communication with others.

Doctors are talking about using the new technology that is still in the development phase to create a "third hand" to help surgeons or pilots.

Sobel was quoted by AFP news agency saying that the soft palate, the flexible driver that moves to direct air in and out through the mouth or nose is controlled by cranial nerves, which are well conserved after an injury.

He said eye blinks could also be used to communicate with severely injured people as the eye blinks are controlled by cranial nerves.

Sobel, who worked with others from the Weizmann Institute and the Sackler faculty of medicine at Tel Aviv Univeersity to develop the new system, came up with a theory that the ability to sniff or to control the soft palate movement might be preserved in most acute cases of paralysis. This is also because sniffing is a motor skill controlled partly by the soft palate.

Scientists created a device with a sensor that fits on the opening of the nostril that measures air pressure changes. The team developed another passive version of the device for patients using respirators to divert airflow to the patient's nostrils.

Tests revealed that about 75 percent of the patients on respirators were able to control their soft palate movement to operate the device. For healthy volunteers the device performed comparable with a mouse or joystick for playing computer games.

In the next stage of tests carried out by Professor Nachum Soroker of Loewenstein Hospital Rehabilitation Center in Raanana, quadriplegics and locked-in patients used the device. Locked-in patients are people with unimpaired cognitive function who are completely paralyzed – 'locked into' their bodies.

A patient who had been locked in for seven months following a paralytic stroke learned to use the device over a period of several days, writing her first message to her family.

Scientists wrote in a report about the system in the proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that the patient started writing with this device at once, initially answering questions and after a few days generated her first post-stroke meaningful self-initiated communication that entailed a profound, personal message to her family.

Another patient who had been locked in since a traffic accident 18 years ago and was only able to communicate by blinking one eye was able to write his name within 20 minutes of being fitted with the device, the scientists wrote.

Similarly, a quadriplegic woman with severe multiple sclerosis was able to write for the first time in a decade, also by using the sniff controller device to move a cursor on a computer screen by sniffing. She now surfs the Internet and writes emails, the scientists wrote.

Another 10 quadriplegic patients who took part in the tests were also able to operate a computer and write messages through sniffing, Sobel was quoted as saying.

Encouraged by these results, the Weizmann Institute has applied for a patent on the device, which should cost $10 or $20, say reports.
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Publication:International Business Times - US ed.
Date:Jul 27, 2010
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