Billionaire Elon Musk has announced that his company Neuralink is seeking approval to test his brain implant in people soon.
In a graphic presentation broadcast Wednesday night, Musk said his team is in the process of applying to US regulatory agencies to allow them to test the device. He said he believes his company should be able to place the implant in the human brain as part of its clinical trials in about six months, though the dates are not certain.
Neuralink is one of many groups working on connecting brains to computers to help treat brain disorders, recover from brain injury, and other applications.
The field of study dates back to the 1960s, said Rajesh Rao, co-director of the Center for Neurotechnology at the University of Washington. “But it really took off in the 1990s. And it’s only recently that we’ve seen a lot of progress, especially in the area of brain-computer interface communication.”
Rao, who watched Musk’s presentation online, said he doesn’t think Neuralink is ahead of its competitors when it comes to advances in brain-computer interfaces. “But they are pretty advanced in terms of hardware in the devices,” he said.
The Neuralink device is the size of a large coin and is designed to be implanted in the skull, with ultra-thin wires connecting directly to the brain. Musk said the first two applications in humans would be to restore vision and help people with little or no ability to operate their muscles quickly use digital devices.
He said he also envisions that in cases of people with broken necks, brain signals could be linked through Neuralink devices to the spinal cord.
Musk recently owned Twitter and is the CEO of Tesla and SpaceX, adding, “We believe there are no physical boundaries to enable full body functionality.”
In other teams’ experiments, implanted sensors have allowed paralyzed people to operate computers and use nerve signals to move robotic arms. In a study published in the journal PLOS One in 2018, three participants with paralysis from the neck down, affecting all of their limbs, used an experimental brain-computer interface from the BrainGate consortium. The interface records neural activity captured with a tiny sensor in the brain in order to be able to use email and apps.
A recent study published in the journal Nature by scientists at the Swiss research center NeuroRestore has identified a type of neurons that are activated by electrical stimulation of the spinal cord, allowing nine patients with chronic spinal cord injury to recover. is allowed to walk.
Researchers are also working on brain-computer interfaces to restore vision. Rao said some companies have developed retinal implants, but Musk’s announcement indicates that his team will use signals aimed directly at the brain’s visual cortex, a strategy that some academic groups have also tried “with limited success”. are employed.
Neuralink spokespeople did not immediately respond to an email sent to the press office. Dr. Jamie Henderson, a professor of neurosurgery at Stanford University who is an advisor to Neuralink, said that one of Neuralink’s differences from other devices is its ability to reach deeper layers of the brain. But he added that “there are many different systems that have many different advantages.”
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