Elon Musk’s Neuralink said it has received approval to start human clinical trials for its wireless brain-computer interface, or BCI. The Precise Robotically Implanted Brain-Computer Interface study, or Prime Study, intends to examine the safety and functionality of the implant for paralysis patients.
A surgical robot will place the BCI in the part of the patient’s brain that controls movement and intention, according to Neuralink. The patient should then be able to control a computer cursor or keyboard using just their thoughts with the help of the implant’s companion app. The app will decode movement intention from the implant’s recordings and allow the participant to use the computer.
Neuralink’s BCI might sound like something out of a sci-fi movie, but it could be life-changing for the more than 300,000 estimated people in the US who’ve experienced a traumatic spinal injury.
The Prime Study’s patient registry is open on Neuralink’s website. Eligible candidates must be at least 22, have quadriplegia due to spinal cord injury or ALS, and are at least one year post-injury without seeing improvement, as well as have a consistent caregiver. The study will take about six years to complete.
Neuralink isn’t the only company working on brain implants, with others already ahead in research.
Blackrock Neurotech started implanting BCIs in 2004, according to the BBC. In addition, Precision Neuroscience, started by a Neuralink co-founder, claims its implant requires a simpler procedure than Neuralink. Dr. Adrien Rapeaux, research associate in the Neural Interfaces Lab at Imperial College London, told the BBC that Neuralink has an advantage with its robotically assisted implantation. Rapeaux is also the co-founder of neural implant start-up Mintneuro.
Because Neuralink’s patient registry just opened, it will take some time to see how the company’s implant system fares in general, and against its competition.
Image credit: Neuralink