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Elone Musk’s Neuralink Approved To Recruit Humans For Brian-Implant Trials

Introduction

Elone Musk’s brain-chip startup neuralink said it has received approval from an independent review board to begin recruitments of the first human trials of it’s brain implants and paralysis patients. Those with paralysis due to cervical spinal cord injury 0r amyotrophic lateral sclerosis may qualify for the study, it said but did not reveal how may participants would be enrolled in the trial, which will take about  six years to complete. The study will use a robot to surgically place a brain-computer interface (BCI) implant in a region of the brain that controls the intention to move.

What is Neuralink?

Neuralink, established by Elon Musk in 2016, is at the forefront of developing “the Link,” a brain-computer interface designed to be surgically embedded. This implant, known as “the Link,” is a coin-sized brain chip strategically placed beneath the skull. It gathers information from neural threads spread across different brain sections responsible for motor skills. Each thread consists of 1,024 electrodes capable of recording and emitting electrical currents. Given their fine and flexible nature, a specialised neurosurgical robot has been built for precise and automated implantation.

“The device is designed to connect human brains directly to computers,” Ramses Alcaide, CEO of Neurable, a neurotech company developing non-invasive, brain-computer interfaces in the form of headphones, told Built In. “[Neuralink’s technology] is capable of recording and decoding neural signals and then transmitting information back to the brain using electrical stimulation.”

Neuralink is also working on an accompanying app that would allow individuals to control a keyboard and mouse using their thoughts, showcasing the company’s pioneering efforts in translating neural signals into actionable tasks.

“Neuralink is really at the vanguard of creating the commercialised, scalable versions of what has been pioneered in academia,” said Sumner Norman, a scientist at nonprofit startup Convergent Research and former chief brain-computer interface scientist at software firm AE Studio.

“There’s been decades of academic research to push this [field] as far as it can go,” he said, “but ultimately, it becomes a very expensive space to develop.”

How Does Neuralink Work?

The technology behind Neuralink operates similarly to electrophysiology, where electrodes capture electrical chemical signals in the nervous system. These signals represent brain activity, not only during actions but also during contemplation of actions. However, it’s crucial to note that Neuralink’s brain-computer interface interprets brain activity as actions rather than reading thoughts.

As the brain-computer interface records intricate data sets, machine learning algorithms and other artificial intelligence agents help make sense of the information, paving the way for potential advancements in various domains.

What Will Neuralink Do?

Neuralink’s primary goal, as stated on their website, is to assist individuals immobilised by paralysis in regaining communication skills. The long-term vision includes restoring motor, sensory, and visual functions, as well as treating various neurological disorders. The potential applications of a Neuralink-like device are vast, extending to enhancing memory, processing speed, and cognitive abilities through a direct brain-digital device interface.

“A Neuralink-like device has the potential to enhance human memory, processing speed and cognitive abilities by creating a direct interface between the human brain and digital devices,” Alcaide said.

The applications encompass restoring mobility for individuals with paralysis, improving communication for non-verbal individuals, and treating neurological conditions by monitoring brain activity. Additionally, this technology can enhance cognitive abilities, aiding focus, memory, and attention through real-time biofeedback and training techniques.

 

Improve Communication For Non-Verbal Individuals

Neuralink’s main focus is to help people who are unable to speak or write communicate with others by allowing them to control a virtual mouse, keyboard or send messages by thought.

For example, someone with paraplegia would be able to manipulate a computer or mobile device using speech or text synthesis to surf the web and create digital art.

Treat Neurological Conditions

By monitoring brain activity, brain-computer interfaces can also detect changes that may indicate neurological conditions such as epilepsy, bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease, Alcaide said.

They can also be used to monitor mental health symptoms. Electrical stimulation could be delivered to targeted areas in the brain as a treatment for burnout, fatigue, anxiety and depression, which, unlike motor skills that are localised to one area, are spread throughout the brain, Norman noted.

“Treating or curing paralysis, neurological disorders and injuries could make the world a substantially nicer place, where very few people have untreatable forms of depression or anxiety,” said Norman, who has spent a decade developing brain-computer interfaces and neuroprosthetics for people with neurological injury or disease. “Giving agency back to those who’ve lost it — that’s an undeniable benefit.”

Enhance Cognitive Abilities

This tech can also help people improve their focus, memory and attention by allowing them to train their brain using real-time biofeedback and other techniques. In Musk’s words, the Link is a sort of “Fitbit in your skull” with “all the sensors you’d expect to see in a smartwatch.”

“If suddenly you could get every neuron in the human brain and sense them all at once, what would you actually do with that data?” We don’t know,” Norman said. “There’s 80 billion neurons in the brain with about 1,000 synapses in between them — how do you interpret that kind of data?”

Neuralink’s technology is currently detecting up to 10,000 of these connections — a big step up from the hundreds being studied in academic trials, Norman said.

Testing and Future Prospects

To date, Neuralink’s neural implant has been tested on various animals, including rats, mice, monkeys, sheep, and pigs. As the company progresses with human trials, there is a growing anticipation of potential breakthroughs that could significantly impact the lives of individuals affected by paralysis, neurological conditions, and other related challenges.