"Sniff-Detector" Helps the Severely Paralyzed Communicate

Some time ago, we looked at EyeWriter – an innovative eyetracking device that allows paralyzed patients to write with their gaze. Today, we're turning to another form of sensory input – sniffing.


A new "sniff-detector" technology developed by Anton Plotkin and Lee Sela of the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel enables a patient to move the cursor on a screen simply by breathing in and out. The software measures the pressure inside the nasal cavity and converts the data into electrical signals that are passed to a computer via a simple USB connection.

The technology was developed almost accidentally as researchers were studying the way our brains process the sense of smell. Using a smell-measuring device called an olfactometer, which emits waves of smell to see how sensitive a person's senses are, the team rigged the olfactometer so that subjects triggered the odor pulse themselves by sniffing, revealing the sniff as a fast and reliable trigger.

The software appears to offer a lifechanging mode of self-expression for a sample of severely paralyzed patients, particularly those with "locked-in syndrome", who are completely unable to move or speak but remain fully lucid and aware.

It would be interesting to see an intersection of various sensory inputs that empower the mobility-impaired to bridge the gap between their brains and their bodies – if EyeWriter works, and the sniff-detector works, wouldn't a combination of the two work even better, offer even richer benefits? It is questions like this that emphasize the ever-increasing importance of cross-disciplinary collaboration between designers, engineers and scientists.

via

Maria Popova is the editor of Brain Pickings, a curated inventory of miscellaneous interestingness. She writes for Wired UK, GOOD Magazine and Huffington Post, and spends a shameful amount of time on Twitter.

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The finding goes hand in hand with the "hygiene hypothesis," initially proposed in 1989 by the British scientist David Strachan. He maintained that our generally sterile modern world prevents children from being exposed to certain microorganisms, resulting in compromised immune systems and greater incidences of asthma and allergies.

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University of Colorado Boulder

Christopher Lowry

This is not the first study on the subject from Lowry, who published previous work showing the connection between being exposed to healthy bacteria and mental health. He found that being raised with animals and dust in a rural environment helps children develop more stress-proof immune systems. Such kids were also likely to be less at risk for mental illnesses than people living in the city without pets.

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"This is just one strain of one species of one type of bacterium that is found in the soil but there are millions of other strains in soils," said Lowry. "We are just beginning to see the tip of the iceberg in terms of identifying the mechanisms through which they have evolved to keep us healthy. It should inspire awe in all of us."

Check out the study published in the journal Psychopharmacology.