Communication is an essential element of human interaction but can be compromised in several clinical conditions. In the so-called 'locked-in' syndrome (LIS), resulting from a severe motor paralysis, patients are literally confined to their own bodies, while at the same time being fully conscious and awake. In recent years, neuroscientists have focused on developing brain-computer-interfaces (BCIs) for muscle-independent communication using brain signals. During my PhD period, I developed a novel technique enabling healthy volunteers to 'translate' any thinkable word (letter-by-letter) into functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) signals. Moreover, an automated letter decoding procedure enabled online word decoding and therewith back-and-forth communication within a single fMRI session. The purpose of the current proposal is to perform the next consequential research step: applying the technique to LIS patients and therewith gaining practical experience that will in turn influence further BCI development. The ideal institute for this objective is the Cyclotron Research Centre at the University of Liège (Belgium). There, I intent to extend the current approach by implementing individualized communication procedures to maximize the potential benefit for each patient. This innovative research constitutes an important step towards the development of effective and patient-friendly alternative BCI spelling devices based on hemodynamic brain responses.
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