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Maariv: Thanks to an Israeli development, a full-body paraplegic was able to “talk” again

Debi Admoni (Photo credit: Amihai Ziner)

Debi Admoni photo credit: Amihai Ziner
This article was translated from Hebrew. It first appeared in Maariv on Jan. 19th, 2024

D-ID, together with Ledaber and the IsrALS association developed a solution that enables patients to build a virtual representation based on their image and communicate with those who surround them

By Dr. Itay Gal

Alive, but trapped within their bodies, a new technological solution now enables people suffering from ALS to express themselves. Generative AI company D-ID, alongside ‘Ledaber’ (‘To Speak’), in partnership with IsrALS, the Israel ALS Research Association, has developed a technological solution that allows patients to create a virtual avatar based on their photograph. Thanks to developments in artificial intelligence, patients can communicate with those around them, and even upload videos of themselves on social media. One patient in Hungary has already done so and became a TikTok star, and now the first Israeli patient has begun using the technology.

Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, is a severe, incurable neurological disease that causes paralysis of all the muscles in the body. The disease typically strikes those between 40 and 70 years old, as the motor neurons controlling muscle movement degenerate, leading to muscle atrophy and complete paralysis.

The initial symptoms are often mild, delaying diagnosis in the early stages of the disease. Symptoms include weakness in limb muscles, muscle cramps, reduced muscle mass in limbs, difficulty in speaking and producing voice, and challenges with breathing and swallowing.

Debi Admoni was diagnosed with ALS at the age of 19. Despite her illness, she managed to get married, publish a cookbook, and start a nonprofit supporting teenagers. However, the primary challenge in recent years, as paralysis progressed throughout her body, has been communication. Since her eyelids are still unaffected, she has been able to communicate by blinking, with a computer enabling her to slowly type out her words.

Using AI video technology developed by D-ID, a photo of Debi was scanned and adapted to create a virtual avatar that mimics her facial movements and lip movements, effectively speaking on her behalf. The next step was selecting a voice similar to Debi’s former voice, resulting in a speaking virtual avatar.

This enabled Debi to become a spokesperson in the battle against ALS, sharing her day-to-day struggles and inspiring deep empathy among viewers. In the first video of Debi’s avatar, she says: ‘I can’t breathe on my own, move my hands or feet, speak or eat. Yet, I am full of gratitude for the opportunity to spread light, especially in these days.’ The video will be used by the Israel ALS Association to assist in their fundraising campaign.

“Beautiful Debi and I are the same age,” says Shiran Melamdovski Somach, the social tech entrepreneur from D-ID, the company that developed the artificial intelligence tool. “When meeting her, I saw that despite her illness, and the fact that she can’t speak, eat, or walk, and is ventilated through a tube in her throat, she remains full of vitality and is an inspiration.”

“The development by D-ID is exciting and enables patients and their families to experience life again, as it was before the paralysis was brought on by the disease,” said Efrat Carmi, CEO of the Israel ALS Association.”

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