Tapping Into the Brain to Help a Paralyzed Man Speak

Dr. Eddie Chang, a neurosurgeon at the University of California, San Francisco Medical School helped Pancho, a man paralyzed since age 20, speak through an implant in his brain that connects to a computer program. Mike Kai Chen for The New York Times.


Dr. Edward Chang, a 2015 National Blavatnik Awards winner in the Life Sciences category, continues to advance his neuroscientific research by helping a paralyzed man, known as Pancho, “speak” through a neuroprosthetic implant. Dr. Chang, the chairman of neurological surgery at the University of California San Francisco, led the team responsible for this scientific milestone. 128 electrodes were implanted into Pancho’s brain where speech-related sensory and motor processes take place. When Pancho attempts to speak, the implanted electrodes transmit signals to a computer by a cable attached to a port in his head and displays his intended words on a screen. The system uses artificial intelligence to recognize and predict the words and sentences Pancho is creating. While the algorithmic results are far from perfect, the computer was able to correctly recognize individual words in sentences about three-quarters of the time and was able to decode entire sentences more than half the time. This breakthrough process could pave the way for people with brain injuries or conditions such as A.L.S. or cerebral palsy to communicate more efficiently. Read more about Dr. Chang’s findings in The New York Times and in The New England Journal of Medicine.