First case of Neuralink Transplant: Musk Expects Brain Chip Start-Up
Elon Musk’s motivated brain-computer interface start-up, Neuralink, is set to make a major breakthrough this year as it plans to implant its first human. The company has been working tirelessly since its inception in 2016 to grow a coin-sized brain chip that could potentially revolutionize the way we interact with technology and treat numerous medical conditions. With the recent FDA approval for human trials, Neuralink is one step closer to achieving its mission of restoring autonomy to those with unmet medical requirements and unlocking human potential.
Neuralink’s Technology and Potential Applications
Neuralink’s primary focus is on developing a fully implantable, cosmetically imperceptible brain-computer interface (BCI) that allows users to control computers or mobile devices based on their opinions. The device, called the “Link,” is designed to record and decode neural signals and transmit information back to the brain using electrical stimulation. This groundbreaking technology could have an extensive range of therapeutic uses, including treating circumstances like blindness, paralysis, and despair.
The Link is fixed within a person’s skull, and an array of tiny wires attaches it to specific neurons in the brain. These wires are so fine that they need a specialized surgical robot for precise placement. If positive, Neuralink’s BCI could enable exact control of prosthetic limbs, giving amputees their usual motor skills, and revolutionize treatment for circumstances such as Parkinson’s disease, epilepsy, and spinal cord damage. The technology also shows capacity for potential management of obesity, autism, depression, schizophrenia, and tinnitus.
FDA Approval and Human Trials
After years of research and development, Neuralink finally received FDA approval for its first human clinical trial on May 25, 2023. The company had previously submitted applications to the FDA in 2021 and 2022 but faced rejections due to safety concerns. These concerns included the lithium battery of the device, the possibility of the implant’s wires migrating within the brain, and the challenge of safely extracting the device without damaging brain tissue.
With the recent FDA approval, Neuralink is now gearing up to begin human experiments. Elon Musk proclaimed at the VivaTech event in Paris on June 16, 2023, that the firm plans to implant a tetraplegic or paraplegic patient later this year. Although Musk did not specify the number of patients or the period of the trials, this marks an important milestone for the start-up as it moves closer to its aim of merging humans with apparatuses.
Challenges and Disagreements
Despite the excitement surrounding Neuralink’s progress, the company has faced several trials and debates along the way. One major hurdle has been fortifying U.S. regulatory support for human trials. Competitor Synchron has already received approval for its less ambitious BCI technology, while Neuralink has missed Musk’s publicly stated deadlines for starting human trials.
Neuralink has also been under federal investigation for potential animal-welfare violations during its animal trial program. The company has reportedly killed about 1,500 animals, including more than 280 sheep, pigs, and monkeys, following experiments since 2018. Some employees have accused the company of rushing and botching surgeries on animals, resulting in more deaths than necessary, as Musk pressured staff to receive FDA approval.
The Road Ahead
Despite the challenges and controversies, Neuralink’s assessment has climbed in recent months, reaching around $5 billion based on confidentially executed stock trades. As the company prepares for its initial human test, it faces rivalry from other neurotech firms that have already implanted their devices in people. If Neuralink can prove its device is safe for humans, it will still take several years, possibly more than a decade, for the start-up to secure profitable use clearance.
Neuralink’s forthcoming human experiment marks a major step towards recognizing Elon Musk’s vision of merging people with machines. If successful, this revolutionary technology could alter the way we cooperate with technology and revolutionize treatment for numerous medical conditions. As the world watches with anticipation, Neuralink’s journey serves as a testament to the power of invention and the potential of human originality.