tongue-wheelchairIn a new clinical study, participants with paralysis were reportedly able to use a tongue-controlled technology to access computers and executive commands for their wheelchairs at speeds faster than those recorded in sip-and-puff wheelchairs, yet with equal accuracy.

According to a news release from the Georgia Institute of Technology, in terms of wheelchair control, the study aimed to compare the performance of the wireless and wearable Tongue Drive System to the sip-and-puff technology.

The release notes that the Tongue Drive System is controlled by the position of the user’s tongue. A magnetic tongue stud is engineered to allow patients to use their tongue as a joystick to drive the wheelchair. Sensors that comprise the tongue stud also relay the tongue’s position to a headset, which executes up to six commands based upon the tongue position.

During the study, researchers requested that the participants complete a set of tasks commonly used in similar trials, the release says. Participants were either able-bodied or patients with tetraplegia. Researchers compared how able-bodied participants were able to execute commands using either the Tongue Drive System or with a keypad and a mouse. The researchers were then able to calculate how much information is transferred from a patient’s brain to the computer as they performed a point-and-click task.

The research team goes on to report that the study’s findings indicate that the performance of 11 patients with tetraplegia using the Tongue Drive System was three times faster than their performance with the sip-and-puff system, yet with the same level of accuracy. In the release, researchers note that the experiments were repeated for 5 weeks for the able-bodied test group and for 6 weeks for the tetraplegic group. All participants were able to complete the trial.

Maysam Ghovanloo, PhD, study co-author, principal investigator, and associate professor, School of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology, emphasizes, “That was a very exciting finding. It attests to how quickly and accurately you can move your tongue.”

The release states that the piercing of the tongue with the magnet was the inspiration of Anne Laumann, MD, lead investigator of the Northwestern trial, professor of dermatology at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago. The inspiration reportedly stemmed from Laumann’s research into the use of a glued-on tongue magnet used in the early stage of the Tongue Drive System, which fell off after a few hours.

While the technology is not ready for commercialization, the release says, Ghovanloo’s startup company, Bionic Sciences, is working with Georgia Tech to move the technology forward.

Also included in the trial were researchers from the Shepherd Center in Atlanta, the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, and the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago.

[Photo Credit: Maysam Ghovanloo]

[Source: Georgia Institute of Technology]