DECODER Project Logo Deployment of Brain-Computer Interfaces for the Detection of Consciousness in Non-Responsive Patients

Through the deployment of Brain-Computer Interfaces (BCI) for non-responsive patients, DECODER will provide access to modern information and communication technology such as internet, personal computer or home appliances when only a single response of a person is available. In this extreme case of non-responsiveness, no current assistive technology can help the patient interact with the environment. This situation poses serious ethical issues, since medical treatment can prolong the patients' lives, but leave them with a quality of life they find unacceptable.

It is not only the patients themselves who are affected by these diseases. The uncertainty of diagnosis strongly affects partners and relatives of patients and the inability to communicate poses a tremendous burden for those who are caring for the patients. Thus, by targeting the two main aims of the project, DECODER will bring a significant improvement of the quality of life of patients and their families.

The first aim is to overcome the diagnostic gap by promoting and establishing diagnostic tools for non-responsive patients which will be easy to handle and apply, and the results of which will be unequivocal. A hierarchical approach to cortical processing and consciousness will be developed and established mainly on the basis of the EEG, as it can assess brain activity with exceptional temporal resolution. As the spatial resolution of the EEG is not as fine as other technologies, this gap will be bridged with optical imaging. Current diagnostic tools on the basis of functional magnetic resonance imaging will be transferred to optical imaging (near infrared spectroscopy) which can be applied at the patients' bedside.

The second aim is to overcome the output gap by further developing and adapting existing BCI systems and applications to single-switch BCI control. This is important as it can be envisaged that non-responsive patients even after rehabilitation will not be able to recover motor or cortical functioning to such an extent that they will be able to control multi-switch devices or hybrid BCI. Thus, DECODER is aiming at promoting single-switch BCI for inclusion by developing new software tools for the recognition of intention in brain activity and for translating this intention into commands for single-switch BCI.

Within DECODER, g.tec implements active and passive paradigms studied for improving diagnostic tools and single-switch BCI control. Furthermore, g.tec is responsible for the dissemination and exploitation task, and will further investigate BCI for single switch applications. The BCI hardware platform, consisting of active EEG electrodes, the electrode cap, the preamplifier and the biosignal amplifier which is connected to the computer via USB connection is also delivered to the consortium. This EEG system allows a fast and easy adaptation to the needs of the project, an uncomplicated montage of the electrodes and less sensitiveness to artifacts as active electrodes are applied.

The consortium is represented by Julius-Maximilians-Universitaet Würzburg (UNI WUE), Fondazione Santa Lucia IRCCS (FSL), Technische Universitaet Graz (TUG), Eberhard Karls Universität Tübingen (EKUT), The MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit (CBU), University Maastricht (UM), University of Liège (ULG), Guger Technologies OG (gtec) and Association de Locked-in Syndrome (ALIS).