Elon Musk, a tech tycoon, recently announced that his business, Neuralink, is applying for approval to begin human testing of its brain implant. During a “show and tell” presentation aired live on Wednesday night, Musk revealed that his team has begun the process of requesting permission to test the device in the United States.
He predicted that in roughly six months, the company would be able to put the implant in a human brain as part of a clinical study, albeit this estimate is highly uncertain. Many organizations, including Musk’s Neuralink, are researching and developing ways to connect brains to computers for the purpose of treating neurological illnesses, recovering from brain injuries, and other uses.
According to Rajesh Rao, who runs the UW’s Center for Neurotechnology, the history of neurotechnology may be traced back to the 1960s. But the 90s were when it really started to take off. And we’ve seen a lot of progress recently, particularly in the field of brain-computer interfaces for communication.
Though Rao saw Musk’s presentation online, he disagrees that Neuralink has made more progress in the field of brain-computer interfaces than other companies. On the other hand, “But … they are quite ahead in terms of the actual hardware in the devices,” he noted.
The Neuralink gadget is implantable in the skull and connects to the brain via ultrathin wires, making it about the size of a huge coin. Musk has stated that the first two human applications will involve recovering sight and facilitating the quick use of digital gadgets by those with limited or no muscle control.
He further speculated that Neuralink devices implanted in the spinal cord would be able to relay brain impulses from a patient with a broken neck. Musk, who just seized control of Twitter and is CEO of Tesla and SpaceX, has said, “We’re confident there are no physical limitations to enabling full body functionality,”
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) December 1, 2022
Paralyzed persons have used brain impulses to control computers and manipulate robotic limbs in trials conducted by other teams, thanks to implanted sensors. Three people with complete paralysis below the neck used a prototype brain-computer interface developed by the consortium BrainGate and published in the journal PLOS ONE in 2018. To use things like email and apps, the interface monitors neural activity from a small sensor in the brain.
Researchers at the Swiss institute NeuroRestore recently published in Nature their discovery of a specific type of neuron activated by electrical stimulation of the spinal cord, which they used to restore walking to nine patients with chronic spinal cord injury.
Brain-machine interfaces for the purpose of restoring sight have also been the focus of research. Although some firms have created retinal implants, according to Rao, Musk’s announcement suggested his team will use signals directly to the brain’s visual cortex, an approach that is also being pursued by several academic groups, albeit “with limited success.”
A message sent to the Neuralink press office was not immediately returned. Neuralink’s mentor, a neurosurgery professor at Stanford University Dr. Jaimie Henderson, has indicated that the device’s capacity to penetrate deeper brain layers is one of its key differentiators from competing technologies. Although, he did add, “There are lots of different systems that have lots of different advantages.”
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Elon Musk, a billionaire in the IT industry, recently revealed that his company, Neuralink, is submitting paperwork to start human testing of its brain implant. On Wednesday night, during a live “show and tell” presentation, Musk said that his team has started the process of applying for approval to test the gadget in the United States.