Brain interface testing. Within the next six months Elon Musk claims Neuralink’s brain chip is to begin human trials
Neuralink, the Elon Musk-founded start-up aimed at developing wireless brain-machine interfaces, will begin human testing within the next six months.
This is according to Elon Musk, speaking Wednesday to a crowd of select invitees in a presentation at Neuralink headquarters, Reuters reported.
If human testing actually happens, it will be an important development. Neuralink has already tested its brain interface chip with animals, as it seeks approval from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to begin clinical trials in people
In April 2021, Neuralink posted a video that showed a monkey playing a game of Pong using only signals from its mind.
That video showed the monkey first controlling the game using a joystick, and being rewarded with a banana smoothie delivered through a metal straw. Meanwhile the implanted chip records the brain signals used to control the joystick.
When the scientific team disconnected the joystick, the monkey continued to play, but now the game of “MindPong”, as the company nicknamed it, is apparently controlled using its brain signals only.
Neuralink had also previously showed a video of a pig called Gertrude (Gertie) with an implant that allowed her neural activity to be tracked as she looked for food.
In February this year Neuralink admitted eight monkeys had died during its research, as it responded to a legal complaint from anti animal testing group.
The group that opposed medical testing on animals called the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) had filed a state lawsuit and federal complaint with the US Department of Agriculture (USDA).
The complaint was centred against the University of California, Davis, which helped Neuralink conduct its brain computing research on primates.
Neuralink at the time hit back at the complaint, and denied that any of the animals involved in its research experienced extreme suffering as alleged by PCRM.
Now this week Elon Musk has told attendees that he expects a wireless brain chip to begin human clinical trials in six months.
However it is fair to say that Elon Musk has a tendency to flexible with his timelines.
San Francisco Bay Area and Austin, Texas-based Neuralink is developing brain chip interfaces that seeks to enable disabled patients to move and communicate again.
According to Reuters, Musk added on Wednesday that it will also target restoring vision.
“We want to be extremely careful and certain that it will work well before putting a device into a human,” Musk reportedly said during a much-awaited public update on the device.
Musk also emphasised the speed at which the company is developing its device.
“The progress at first, particularly as it applies to humans, will seem perhaps agonizingly slow, but we are doing all of the things to bring it to scale in parallel,” he added. “So, in theory, progress should be exponential.”
The first two human applications targeted by the Neuralink device will be in restoring vision and enabling movement of muscles in people who cannot do so, Musk said.
“Even if someone has never had vision, ever, like they were born blind, we believe we can still restore vision,” he said.
The event was originally planned for 31 October but Musk postponed it just days before without giving a reason – presumably Twitter’s acquisition had something to do with it though.
It should be noted that Neuralink is running behind schedule, and is seems to be behind one of its rivals.
Musk said in a 2019 presentation he was aiming to receive regulatory approval by the end of 2020. He then said at a conference in late 2021 that he hoped to start human trials this year.
Neuralink has repeatedly missed internal deadlines to gain FDA approval to start human trials, current and former employees have said – according to Reuters.
Musk approached competitor Synchron earlier this year about a potential investment after he expressed frustration to Neuralink employees about their slow progress, Reuters reported in August.
Synchron crossed a major milestone in July by implanting its device in a patient in the United States for the first time. It had received US regulatory clearance for human trials back in 2021 and has completed studies in four people in Australia.
Elon Musk meanwhile touted in July 2020 that Neuralink’s end goal was not just to stream music directly into a person’s brain, bypassing the need for earphones (and even ears) altogether.
He is hoping the creation of a brain interface may allow doctors to alleviate symptoms of chronic medical and neurological conditions in human beings.