New technology is allowing people who are paralyzed, due to accidents or to diseases like ALS (the condition that quantum physicist Stephen Hawking has), to operate computers using only their brains. A fourteen-year-old boy with epilepsy has learned to play Space Invaders using only brain signals. And new breakthrough in stem cell research may be able to actually cure people with ALS.

Researchers have shown that transplanting human stem cells into spinal cords of rats bred to duplicate Lou Gehrig?s disease delays the start of the nerve cell damage and prolongs life. The stem cells develop into nerve cells that connect with existing nerves and do not themselves succumb to ALS. While this is not yet a cure, it does demonstrate hope for the future.

Scientists have indentified the genetic mutation that leads to the most common inherited form of ALS. However, only about 10% of all ALS cases are inherited. In the majority of ALS cases, there is no known cause. An estimated 30,000 people throughout the U.S. have ALS and 5,000 new cases are diagnosed each year.

Sara Goudarzi writes in that a 14-year-old boy from St. Louis who had grids implanted in his brain to help control his epilepsy has had these grids linked to a computer program that allows him to play Space Invaders using only his brain. In, Sara Goudarzi quotes researcher Eric Leuthardt as saying, “He cleared out the whole Level One basically on brain control?We then gave him a more challenging version in two-dimensions and he mastered two levels there playing only with his imagination.”

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