FDA gives Neuralink 'a second shot' at human brain chip

A case of 'keep digging deeper' actually being the right move for Elon, potentially

America's Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has reportedly approved Neuralink to implant an updated brain chip in a second human patient. The Elon Musk startup also hopes to perform ten tryouts by the end of the year.

The FDA's go-ahead came after Neuralink redesigned its implant to prevent wires from falling out of the brain, a financial periodical claimed today citing an anonymous source. The Register asked the FDA and Neuralink for further comment; the former declined, and we'll let you know if the latter has anything to say.

For those who need to know, Neuralink is trying to design chips that attach electrically and directly to one's gray matter to, for instance, allow one to control a mouse pointer with their thoughts. The overall goal being, mainly, to help paralyzed people get moving again with the assistance of machines connected wirelessly to this brain implant.

The N1 chip itself uses hair-thin wires inserted into the brain, which can come loose – and that's apparently what happened to the upstart's first human patient, Noland Arbaugh.

It's said 85 percent of the wires connecting the prototype N1 to Arbaugh's brain came loose, leaving just nine or ten of the original 64, greatly reducing the capabilities of the chip. Neuralink did not disclose this in its initial report about the loose wires, only saying that some had come out.

One key design change Neuralink has proposed is putting the wires deeper into the brain, increasing the depth to eight millimeters from five. It's not clear if this is the sole change the neurotech biz is making, and if merely installing the wires further in will be sufficient to prevent the probes from coming out.

Either way, Neuralink aims to implant the redesigned chip into another patient in June, it's said. The upstart also plans to have a total of ten Neuralink patients before the year ends, sampled from the over 1,000 quadriplegics who have applied, although fewer than 100 of these applicants actually qualified. Consequently, Neuralink founder Elon Musk is still soliciting applicants on X.

As the anonymous source notes, most applicants are White and male, and a more diverse set of patients is needed to determine the implant's general viability. US-based Neuralink is also now accepting patient applications in Canada, and will open up applications in Britain in a few days or so, it's said; the biz will need regulatory approval in those nations, natch.

Regardless of whether one wonders how viable this technology will be, Musk is pretty confident, and reckons that eventually two Neuralink chips can be used together to restore the functionality of spinal nerves in paralyzed people.

That said, Musk is often very if not overly optimistic about the capabilities of his ventures, such as his long-term goal to get humans on Mars, which was already supposed to have happened by now. ®

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