About ten years ago, Erik Ramsey, then a spirited 16-year-old who loved playing football, listening to heavy metal, and drawing monsters in class, was in a late-night car wreck that left him completely paralyzed. He could still see, smell, and hear. His body could still register the itch of a rash or the pleasure of a warm breeze. But he couldn’t speak or make any voluntary movements other than with his eyes. There is no treatment for his condition, which is known to neurologists as locked-in syndrome.
Two BU scientists are working to help Ramsey and others who have lost the ability to speak because of stroke or disease. They’ve been developing a neural model of speech for more than two decades, one that they are using as a Rosetta stone to create decoder software that they hope can translate thoughts into speech.