The New Bilinguals - Our big moonshot question was to find an alternative cure for bilingual aphasia other than speech therapy.

Summary of the Feedbacks: From last week’s presentation, we received some thoughtful feedback from our classmates. While there were a lot of support, we also received critical observation in structuring our project.

First of all, many people were confused as to how we were relating bilingualism to aphasia. This seems to have arisen from misunderstanding - we plan to focus our project on bilinguals that suffer from aphasia, not to relate the two to each other.

 We also noticed some comments on how our idea might be “too moonshot”, considering the lack of resources on biological approaches to bilingual aphasia. Although we think that attacking such a complex and variable issue is what makes it “moonshot”, we do acknowledge that we need to revise some of our ideas.

Revising Our Big Question:

 First, we have received feedback that we may as well focus on a specific type of aphasia. Accordingly, we decided to focus primarily on bilinguals affected by expressive aphasia. This means they can still read and comprehend one or both languages but cannot communicate through speech or writing.

 In addition, we thought that focusing on a biological cure may limit other possible solutions and also may lead to a new problem of people not having enough money to access the solution. Therefore, we expanded our solution to “finding an alternative cure” that is more effective than speech therapy. That is, we will not only look for biological, but also behavioral interventions that may cure aphasia.

Our 8 Solutions:

  1. Teaching the patient how to write again/understand the alphabet.

   Problems: Not very different from the current speech therapy. Takes time, and the variation of language may be limited due to the number of clinicians available.

2. Using a combination of stem cells and traditional therapy to stimulate regrowth of the damaged area and then teaching the language over again.

   Problems: Since we are handling a brain of a living individual, the surgery may be very risky because it could hurt other areas.

3. By figuring out how vocabulary and grammar structures are actually memorized in the brain, maybe we could program the language from the outside.

   Problems: Concern on whether it is realistic...

4. Start learning a third/completely new language, because it may activate/stimulate the brain’s language areas. This is effective in the sense that it causes less pressure to recover quickly, since the patient has never known the language.

   Problems: Very time-consuming with little guarantee that it would help the patient to regain the actual language that they lost.

5. Detect a stroke before it happens.

   Problems: While this would be great, it would require collecting everyone’s brain data to start off with, followed by checking genetic problems, along with the need for a program that would constantly check everyone’s blood pressure and other biological factors for a stroke.

6. Intervention - Program designed to stimulate parts of the brain related to other properties of language, so that they can mimic production

   Problems: Like (1), it is not too different from speech therapy in the sense that it is time-consuming and the variation of language becomes limited.

7. Medical pill to physically help the output easier (e.g., activating muscles)

   Problems: Concern on both immediate and long-term side effects.

8. Singing may stimulate parts of the brain that allow language to be reproduced

   Problems: Not much literature review can be found to prove the hypothesis.

Looking Ahead:

  1. Biological cure directly approaching the brain

 The first solution we found realistic is a combination of (2) and (3). By detecting where the lost language was stored in the individual’s brain (which could be related to when and how the patient acquired the language), we thought that we may be able to implement new stem cells in that particular part. By having healthy stem cells, the patient’s brain is ready to learn a new language just like a newborn child. More research and thinking on how the actual process will be like is needed.

2. A new type of therapy that stimulates the brain

  The second solution focuses on improving the current behavioral therapies. Rather than implementing biological cures that can cause severe, long-term consequences to the patients, we aim to develop effective intervention programs that can replace the current ones.

 One of the solutions may be creating an educational application that helps stimulate patients’ brain areas relevant to language production. Actually, there have been similar attempts to help ASD children acquire language and sociability skills via robots and computer programs (e.g., MILO). This would also enable us to provide affordable cures to wider scope of patients.