VScientists at Israel's Weizmann Institute have invented a unique device operated by sniffing that could allow people who are completely paralysed to communicate with their family and control wheelchairs.
The new system identifies changes in air pressure inside the nostrils and translates these into electrical signals. The device was tested on healthy volunteers as well as quadriplegics, and the results showed that the method is easily mastered.
One person paralysed from the neck down learned to navigate a wheelchair around a complex path after only 15 minutes, while others played a computer game with nearly the speed and accuracy of a mouse or joystick.
The system was developed by Professor Noam Sobel, electronics engineers Drs Anton Plotkin and Aharon Weissbrod, and research student Lee Sela.
Professor Sobel said: "The most stirring tests were those we did with locked-in syndrome patients. These were people with undamaged cognitive function who were completely paralysed.
"Using the new system, they were able to communicate with family members and even the outside. Some wrote poignant messages for the first time in a very long time, sharing their thoughts and feelings."
One patient "locked in" for seven months following a stroke, learned to use the device over a few days, while another, paralysed since a traffic accident 18 years earlier, wrote that the new device was much easier to use than one based on blinking.