Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Elon Musk’s Neuralink Gets FDA Nod for Brain-Chip Implants: What’s Next?

HomeStock-MarketElon Musk's Neuralink Gets FDA Nod for Brain-Chip Implants: What's Next?
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Source: AI

Highlights:

1. Neuralink has received FDA approval to conduct trials for implanting brain chips in humans.
2. The tech company was co-founded by Elon Musk in 2016.
3. Elon Musk had anticipated starting the trials in the spring.
4. Recent interest in Neuralink has caused its valuation to soar from $2 billion to $5 billion.

Elon Musk’s SpaceX recently made headlines with the launch of an enormous and powerful rocket, even though it didn’t quite reach its intended orbit. However, Musk, known as the world’s wealthiest individual, has ambitions that extend far beyond space exploration.

Neuralink, a groundbreaking tech startup co-founded by Musk, is preparing to embark on a truly extraordinary voyage into the realm of the human brain. Just two weeks ago, the company received the green light from the Food and Drug Administration to commence trials for implanting brain chips in human subjects.

Although the exact commencement date for these trials remains unknown, the anticipation surrounding Neuralink’s development of a brain-computer interface is electric. Remarkably, the company’s valuation has skyrocketed from $2 billion to an impressive $5 billion in a span of just two years, as reported by Reuters.

While it will undoubtedly take several years before the Neuralink treatment becomes widely accessible, investors are not deterred in the slightest. Analyst Daniel Ives from Wedbush Securities remarked, “As Neuralink continues to showcase its immense potential and achieve its milestones, investors will increasingly take notice, given Musk’s track record of success with Tesla and SpaceX. Neuralink is still in the nascent stages of an unprecedented era of innovation, and it promises to be yet another revolutionary technology emerging from Musk’s visionary ecosystem.”

Excitingly, Neuralink’s journey is only just beginning, poised to usher in a wave of transformative breakthroughs and lay the groundwork for a future defined by unprecedented technological advancements.

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What Can the Neuralink Brain Chip Do?

Neuralink aims to empower people with paralysis to operate computers or phones solely using their brain activity. Their Neuralink 1 implant, comprising multiple chips and a wireless battery, is sealed within a compact device similar to a large coin. The implant includes ultra-thin threads that directly interface with the brain. Through Bluetooth, signals from the implant are transmitted and decoded by a brain-computer interface (BCI), enabling tasks like controlling an onscreen cursor or manipulating a robotic limb.

In a conversation held online in 2021, Musk described their initial objective: a wireless implanted chip that allows tetraplegic or quadriplegic individuals to control devices such as computers, mice, and phones using their thoughts. This breakthrough would greatly enhance their quality of life. Musk likened it to having a Fitbit-like device in your skull with tiny wires connecting to the brain.

Neuralink’s aspirations go beyond assisting paralyzed patients in regaining mobility and communicating without typing. Their long-term vision encompasses restoring complete mobility and even restoring sight.


How is the Neuralink Chip Implanted?

Neuralink has developed a special surgical robot designed specifically to insert the brain implant. This implant consists of 64 ultra-thin, flexible threads that are connected and equipped with 1,024 electrodes to capture neural activity.

Equipped with five built-in camera systems, the robot utilizes optical coherence tomography to visualize brain tissue without invasive procedures. The robot’s delicate needle, as thin as a human hair, precisely inserts the threads in the targeted locations as stated on Neuralink’s website.


When Will Neuralink Start Testing Brain Chips in Humans?

Neuralink took to Twitter on May 25 to announce that it had received FDA approval for its first in-human clinical study, marking an important initial step towards helping many individuals with their groundbreaking technology. While recruitment for the clinical trial is yet to open, the company promises to provide more information soon.

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During a presentation in November 2022, Elon Musk mentioned that Neuralink could begin implanting chips in humans for a clinical trial within approximately six months.

However, it may take around a decade or even longer for Neuralink to make its brain implant commercially available. Kip Ludwig, a former program director for neural engineering at the National Institutes of Health, optimistically estimated that it would take at least 10 more years for Neuralink to bring its brain implant to the market.

Neuralink is also facing investigations by regulators regarding its research protocols, including the treatment of animals used in experiments such as rats, mice, sheep, pigs, and monkeys. There are concerns about the company’s handling of chips removed from monkeys’ brains, which were reportedly contaminated with infectious pathogens during shipment.

The FDA had previously rejected Neuralink’s application for human trials in 2022, citing various issues, including the potential migration of the implant’s threads to other areas of the brain.

Currently, Neuralink is actively hiring professionals such as neurosurgeons, animal welfare and care specialists, clinical trial managers, and various tech positions.

The FDA’s approval for human trials surprised some experts considering Elon Musk’s history on Twitter. Ethical concerns have been raised about privacy and the use of brain data collected by Neuralink. It remains important to monitor whether Neuralink will prioritize ethical considerations and safeguard user privacy.

Overall, these investigations and challenges indicate the need for careful examination and accountability as Neuralink progresses in its quest to develop brain implant technology.


Decoding Neuralink’s Research: A Simple Overview

In an impressive showcase of progress, Elon Musk revealed in August 2020 how a pig with a Neuralink chip implanted exhibited brain activity. Not stopping there, Neuralink amazed the world in April 2021 by demonstrating a chip-implanted monkey skillfully playing Pong.

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During a livestreamed event in November 2022, Musk dropped a surprising bombshell, stating that he could already have a covert Neuralink device implanted, seamlessly integrating technology with the human body.

With visionary ambition, Musk foresees a future where Neuralink empowers individuals to save and replay memories, hinting at mind-bending possibilities that lie ahead. Brace yourself, for the future is set to be truly extraordinary.


Rivals in Brain Technology: Other Companies Challenge Neuralink

While Neuralink has gained significant attention, researchers have been studying brain-computer interfaces (BCIs) for years to treat brain injuries and other conditions.

Synchron, backed by Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos, has already conducted successful human tests with its brain-computer interface called Stentrode. Through blood vessel insertion, the device collects brain data transmitted by a chest antenna. Patients in the study were able to send texts, emails, and shop online, offering hope for those with paralysis.

Blackrock Neurotech in Utah has been testing brain implants for nearly two decades, aiding paralyzed individuals in controlling limbs and devices. They are currently working towards FDA approval.

Paradromics, based in Texas, plans to initiate in-human trials with their Connexus Direct Data Interface. This device captures neural signals through implanted electrodes, decodes them, and transmits the data to external devices via a chest transmitter. Already, deep brain stimulators are used by over 150,000 Americans to treat movement disorders like Parkinson’s.

While some may view these technologies as reminiscent of science fiction, they are becoming a reality. The key lies in using them to improve the lives of individuals facing challenges like ALS, rather than for trivial purposes.

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Mezhar Alee
Mezhar Alee
Mezhar Alee is a prolific author who provides commentary and analysis on business, finance, politics, sports, and current events on his website Opportuneist. With over a decade of experience in journalism and blogging, Mezhar aims to deliver well-researched insights and thought-provoking perspectives on important local and global issues in society.

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