Neuralink Recruiting For First Human Trial Of Its Brain-Computer Interface

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Elon Musk’s brain-computer interface (BCI) start-up, Neuralink, has begun recruiting people for its first human trial. The company’s goal is to connect human brains to computers, and it wants to test its technology on people with paralysis. A robot will help implant a BCI that will let them control a computer cursor, or type, using thoughts alone.

Neuralink won US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval for its first human clinical trial in May, a critical milestone after earlier struggles to gain approval. The FDA approval represented “an important first step that will one day allow our technology to help many people,” Neuralink said. At the initial stage, the company had sought approval to implant its devices in 10 people, former and current employees told news agency Reuters. The number finally agreed upon is not known.

At the start of the six-year study, a robot would be used to surgically place 64 flexible threads, thinner than a human hair, on to a part of the brain that controlled “movement intention,” the company said. These allow Neuralink’s experimental N1 implant powered by a battery that can be charged wirelessly to record and transmit brain signals wirelessly to an app that decodes how the person intends to move.

The company says people may qualify for the trial if they have quadriplegia due to injury or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) – a disease in which the nerve cells in the spinal cord and brain degenerate. While Mr Musk’s involvement raises the profile of Neuralink, he faces rivals; some with a track record dating back nearly two decades.

Utah-based Blackrock Neurotech implanted its first of many BCIs in 2004. Precision Neuroscience, formed by a Neuralink co-founder, also aims to help people with paralysis. And its implant resembles a very thin piece of tape that sits on the surface of the brain and can be implanted via a “cranial micro-slit,” which it says is a much simpler procedure.

Neuralink has been a magnet for controversy over the years; both because of Musk’s overpromises and the company’s internal practices. Its treatment of monkeys in testing has repeatedly been an issue, for one; Musk recently said that the testing was only done on “terminal monkeys” and that no monkey ever died as a result of a Neuralink implant, but regulators have found lots of problems with its treatment of animals. The company is also under investigation for illegally transporting pathogen-laced devices removed from monkeys.

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