Elon Musk’s Neuralink Begins First human trial

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Elon Musk, the billionaire founder of the neurotechnology company Neuralink, has said the first human received an implant from the brain-chip startup, and is recovering well. The surgery is not a surprise as the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had given the company clearance in September to carry out the first trial of its implant on humans.

“Initial results show promising neuron spike detection,” Musk said in a post on X on Monday, a day after the chip was implanted. Spikes are activity by neurons, which the National Institute of Health describes as cells that use electrical and chemical signals to send information around the brain and to the body. In follow-up tweets, the businessman said the first Neuralink product was called Telepathy.

“It enables control of your phone or computer, and through them almost any device, just by thinking,” he wrote. “Initial users will be those who have lost the use of their limbs. Imagine if Stephen Hawking could communicate faster than a speed typist or auctioneer. That is the goal,” he added.

Musk has a long history of bold promises but a spottier record of fulfilling them. In 2016, he wrongly predicted that within two years it would be possible for a Tesla to drive autonomously from New York to Los Angeles. That year he said his SpaceX rocket company would fly to Mars in 2018 – it still has not. In 2017, Musk suggested Neuralink’s first product would be on the market “in about four years.” The closest is coming up seven years after.

However, Tuesday’s news was a “significant milestone” towards that goal, said Anne Vanhoestenberghe, a professor of active implantable medical devices at King’s College London. “For the brain-computer interface community, we must place this news in the context that while there are many companies working on exciting products, there are only a few other companies who have implanted their devices in humans; so Neuralink has joined a rather small group,” she added.

“I expect Neuralink will want to give the participant time to recover before they start training their system with the participant. We know Elon Musk is very adept at generating publicity for his company, so we may expect announcements as soon as they begin testing. Although true success in my mind should be evaluated in the long-term, by how stable the interface is over time, and how much it benefits the participant.”

The startup’s study, Prime, Is a trial for its wireless brain-computer interface to evaluate the safety of the implant and surgical robot. Researchers will assess the functionality of the interface, which enables people with quadriplegia to control devices with their thoughts, according to the company’s website. Neuralink and Musk did not immediately respond to a request for further details.

Musk replied to a crypto influencer on X who quoted him as saying the company would “help in restoration of eyesight” to add that Blindsight was another product Neuralink was working on. The company has faced calls for scrutiny regarding its safety protocols. It was reported earlier this month that the company was fined for violating U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) rules regarding the movement of hazardous materials.

Also, four lawmakers in late November asked the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission to investigate if Musk had misled investors about the safety of its technology after veterinary records showed problems with the implants on monkeys included paralysis, seizures and brain swelling. Musk had reportedly wrote in a social media post on September 10, 2023 that “no monkey has died as a result of a Neuralink implant,” adding that the company chose “terminal” monkeys to minimise risk to healthy ones.

Neuralink received FDA clearance last year for its first trial to test the company’s implant in humans; a critical milestone for the startup. Reuters reported in June that the company was valued as high as $5bn, based on private stock trades. Neuralink announced the implant trial in September. The company said during the study, a robot developed by the company would surgically place the implants’ “ultra-fine” threads that helped transmit signals in participants’ brains.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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