Elon Musk announced on social media platform X on Monday that Neuralink, his company, has successfully implanted a brain device in its first human patient.
After facing years of delays, Neuralink initiated the recruitment of patients for a clinical trial in the fall, gaining approval from both the US Food and Drug Administration and a hospital ethics board. The focus of the trial is the development of a brain-computer interface (BCI).
Musk envisions Neuralink achieving “symbiosis with artificial intelligence,” but the initial aim is to empower paralyzed individuals to control a cursor or keyboard with their brains. The study targets participants with quadriplegia due to cervical spinal cord injury or ALS, aged at least 22, with an anticipated six-year duration.
Neuralink’s brochure outlines the use of a proprietary surgical robot to precisely implant the device into the brain’s movement control region. The coin-sized device records and transmits brain signals wirelessly to an app for decoding.
In Musk’s Monday post, he reported the patient’s successful recovery and promising initial neuron spike detection. However, it may take months to determine if the patient can effectively use the implant for device control, considering the recovery and training period for BCI operation.
While Neuralink’s achievement marks a significant step, it’s important to note that several individuals worldwide have undergone BCI implantation in research studies since 2004, enabling activities like playing video games and writing emails with their thoughts.
Traditionally pursued by academic labs, BCIs faced impracticality due to clunky setups and thick cables. Neuralink’s wireless system, with over 1,000 electrodes across 64 threads, offers a leap forward compared to the previous standard of 100 electrodes in the Utah array.
Despite its advancements, Neuralink has faced controversy, especially concerning animal testing. Reports of monkey fatalities during brain implant testing led to a federal investigation. Additionally, Neuralink faced fines for violating US Department of Transportation rules on hazardous materials movement.
Since its establishment in 2016, Neuralink faces competition from companies like Synchron, which has already successfully implanted a BCI in people, demonstrating safety and enabling various online activities for paralyzed patients.
While Neuralink has not disclosed trial details, interested participants can check the patient registry. The company is yet to register with ClinicalTrials.gov, the central database for clinical studies.
Although information on the Neuralink surgery is limited to Musk’s tweet, the successful implantation signifies a crucial milestone for this promising technology.