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Clinical trial shows tongue-controlled wheelchair outperforms popular wheelchair navigation system

etter with the Tongue Drive System than with the sip-and-puff system. On average, the performance of 11 subjects with tetraplegia using the Tongue Drive System was three times faster than their performance with the sip-and-puff system, but with the same level of accuracy, even though more than half of the patients had years of daily experience with sip-and-puff technology.

"That was a very exciting finding," Ghovanloo said. "It attests to how quickly and accurately you can move your tongue."

The idea for piercing the tongue with the magnet was the inspiration of Anne Laumann, M.D., professor of dermatology at Feinberg and a lead investigator of the Northwestern trial. She had read about an early stage of Tongue Drive System using a glued-on tongue magnet. The problem was the magnet fell off after a few hours and aspiration of the loose magnet was a real danger to these users.

"Tongue piercing put to medical use who would have thought it? It is needed and it works!" Laumann said.

The experiments were repeated over five weeks for the able-bodied test group, and over six weeks for the tetraplegic group. All of the subjects with tetraplegia were able to complete the trial, which Ghovanloo called an "exciting" and "major finding."

The tetraplegic group was using the Tongue Drive System just one day each week, but their improvement in performance was dramatic.

"We saw a huge, very significant improvement in their performance from session one to session two," Ghovanloo said. "That's an indicator of how quickly people learn this."

Experiments on the Tongue Drive System to date have been done in the lab or hospital. In future studies, scientists will test how the Tongue Drive System performs outside of the controlled clinical environment. The research team hopes to test how patients maneuver with the Tongue Drive System in their homes and other environments.

The Tongue Drive System isn't quite ready

Contact: Brett Israel
Georgia Institute of Technology

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