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Elon Musk's Neuralink Startup Seeks Participants for Brain Implant Trial


Elon Musk's company, Neuralink, has initiated the recruitment process for its inaugural human trial involving brain-computer interface (BCI) technology. Neuralink's overarching objective is to establish a connection between the human brain and computers, with a specific focus on testing the technology on individuals experiencing paralysis.

In this trial, a robotic system will be employed to implant a BCI device into participants. This device will enable them to control a computer cursor or type using only their thoughts. It's important to note that other companies have already implanted BCI devices in humans, making this a competitive field.

Neuralink achieved a significant milestone in May when it received approval from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for its initial human clinical trial. This approval marked a crucial step forward for the company, which had faced challenges in obtaining regulatory clearance. Neuralink expressed its optimism at the time, emphasizing the potential of its technology to benefit many individuals.

The company initially sought approval to implant its devices in ten individuals, although the final number of participants has not been disclosed.

The six-year study will commence with the use of a robot to delicately place 64 ultra-thin threads (thinner than a human hair) onto a specific area of the brain responsible for "movement intention." These threads are integral to Neuralink's experimental N1 implant, which is powered by a rechargeable wireless battery. The implant can wirelessly record and transmit brain signals to an application that deciphers the person's intended movements.

Neuralink's trial is open to individuals with quadriplegia due to injury or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a condition characterized by the degeneration of nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord.

While Elon Musk's involvement has brought significant attention to Neuralink, the company faces competition from rivals with extensive experience in the field, dating back nearly two decades. For instance, Blackrock Neurotech, based in Utah, began implanting BCIs in 2004. Precision Neuroscience, founded by a Neuralink co-founder, also aims to assist individuals with paralysis. Their implant is akin to a thin piece of tape placed on the brain's surface and can be implanted using a simpler "cranial micro-slit" procedure.

Moreover, other existing BCI devices have already demonstrated promising results. Recent scientific studies in the United States have used implants to monitor brain activity when individuals attempted to communicate, providing hope for enhanced communication for those with limited mobility.

Dr. Adrien Rapeaux, a research associate at Imperial College London's Neural Interfaces Lab and co-founder of the neural implant start-up Mintneuro, acknowledged that Neuralink has an advantage in terms of implantation due to their robotic assistance. However, he pointed out that it remains unclear how Neuralink's method of converting brain signals into practical actions will outperform the approaches used by other companies, and whether it can maintain accuracy and reliability over time—a recognized challenge in the field.