Is Neuralink ready for human brain implants? Allegedly so
We're sure Elon will be first in line as a test subject
Neuralink is reportedly trying to partner up with neurosurgery clinics to carry out clinical trials testing its invasive brain-computer interface devices on humans.
The bio-electrical upstart, led by founder Elon Musk, has spent years developing an implantable chip designed to probe the brain's neurons. The latest brain-computer interface (BCI) version, named the N1, is the size of a quarter and has 1,024 channels extending from 64 threads to be inserted into the brain.
Neuralink has experimented on animals such as monkeys and pigs so far, and the ultimate test assessing the device's function and safety would be to use it on humans. Musk has repeatedly claimed his organization is close to embedding its BCI inside people's brains, and in December, he said the startup had submitted most of its paperwork to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for approval to run experiments with its technology on human.
"Probably in about six months we should be able to have our first Neuralink in a human," Musk insisted during the startup's last show and tell presentation, which you can see below. Meanwhile, current and former employees said Neuralink had applied for FDA approval to launch clinical trials on people early in 2022, and was denied.
Concerns over the use of lithium-ion batteries, overheating electronics, and that the wires could move and affect different parts of the brain were reportedly raised. Undeterred by the watchdog's rejection, the startup is now apparently pitching neurosurgery clinics to collaborate on human testing of its BCIs.
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Neuralink is reportedly in talks with the Barrow Neurological Institute, a top neurosurgery center, based in Phoenix, Arizona, according to Reuters. To place Neuralink's N1 devices inside the brain, wearers would have to get a hole drilled into their skull so the BCI's threads can interact with the gray matter and hopefully make a connection.
A mock procedure performed on a mound of fake jelly modelling the brain was carried out by a robotic arm in the startup's presentation. The biz's VP of Implant, DJ Seo, said it only takes 15 minutes to carry out the implanting.
It's not clear how close Neuralink is to its goal of launching human trials, and whether it will partner up with any neurosurgery clinics. There are significant regulatory hurdles to testing invasive BCI implants in people's brains.
Synchron, a startup also developing similar devices, has begun clinical trials of its implants on people, but its system doesn't require open-brain surgery.
Neuralink is also being investigated by FDA officials for allegedly recklessly killing animals due to surgical mishaps and toxic chemicals, and by the US Department of Transportation for mishandling implants removed from dead animals. The devices are said to contain dangerous pathogens but were allegedly not secured properly before they were disposed of.
The Register has asked Neuralink for comment. A spokesperson representing the Barrow Neurological Institute declined to comment on the matter. ®