The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has cleared the first clinical trials of devices made by Elon Musk’s brain-implant firm Neuralink.
Founded in 2016, Neuralink has sought FDA’s nod since 2019, performing brain implants only in animals till now. The company hopes its technology will help treat paralysis and blindness in humans.
How does Neuralink’s brain implant technology work?
While Neuralink’s brain chips sound more like science fiction, they have proved to be successful in monkeys. In 2021, Neuralink released a video showing a monkey playing Pong with its brain.
Neuralink’s system works by letting a sewing machine-like robot surgically insert a microchip inside the brain. It removes a small chunk of the skull, connects the thread-like electrodes to target regions of the brain, and stitches up the hole, finally leaving only a scar.
The microchip then interprets brain signals and relays information to computers via Bluetooth. The whole procedure, Musk explained, takes 30 minutes and does not require anesthesia, with patients being discharged on the same day.
“You could have a Neuralink device implanted right now and you wouldn’t even know,” he said last December during a Neuralink “Show and Tell” event in Fremont, California. “Even if someone has never had a vision, ever, like they were born blind, we believe we can still restore vision.” Musk claimed he was ready to have the device implanted in his own brain in future.
Who are Neuralink’s competitors?
Neuralink’s competitors in the brain-implant field, Synchron and Blackrock Neurotech, have already implanted devices in at least 42 people in the world for clinical trials.
Synchron got FDA approval in July 2021 and tested its device on four patients in Australia who successfully sent text messages with their minds, without typing anything.
Blackrock Neurotech secured FDA’s clearance in November 2021, with its MoveAgain system allowing doctors to pick up neurological signals from the brain of paralyzed patients, allowing them to control digital devices, prosthetics, and their own limbs.