According to recent reports, Elon Musk’s Neuralink company has achieved a major milestone by successfully implanting a wireless brain chip in a human.
In a recent update, he shared that encouraging brain activity has been observed following the procedure and the patient’s recovery is progressing positively.
The company’s mission is to establish a connection between human brains and computers, with the aim of addressing intricate neurological conditions.
Several competing companies have already introduced comparable devices.
“The first test in humans is a significant milestone for any company producing medical devices,” Professor Anne Vanhoestenberghe of King’s College London emphasised.
“In the world of brain chip implants, it’s important to note that while there are numerous companies developing innovative products, only a select few have actually implanted their devices in humans. Therefore, Neuralink has now become part of this exclusive group.”
Nevertheless, she also advised exercising caution, emphasising that determining “true success” requires a long-term perspective.
“We are aware of Elon Musk’s exceptional ability to generate publicity for his company,” she remarked.
Another company that has made significant progress in this field is the École Polytechnique Fédérale in Lausanne (EPFL), located in Switzerland. They have achieved the remarkable feat of enabling a paralysed individual to walk solely through their thoughts.
He was able to achieve this remarkable feat by utilising electronic implants on his brain and spine, allowing for seamless communication of thoughts to his legs and feet.
The breakthrough findings were published in the esteemed journal Nature in May 2023.
There has been no confirmation from an independent source regarding Mr. Musk’s claims, and Neuralink has not disclosed any details about the procedure he mentioned.
BBC has reached out to Neuralink and the FDA for comment.
Neuralink conducting experiments
Neuralink has faced previous criticism for its actions. In December 2022, Reuters reported that the company conducted tests that unfortunately led to the loss of around 1,500 animal lives, including sheep, monkeys, and pigs.
In July 2023, the head of the US Department of Agriculture, responsible for investigating animal welfare concerns, stated that no violations of animal research rules had been found at the firm.
Nevertheless, the agency is currently conducting a separate investigation.
In May 2023, the FDA granted Mr. Musk’s company permission to conduct human testing of the chip.
According to Neuralink, a six-year study has been initiated using a robot to delicately implant 64 ultra-thin threads onto a specific area of the brain responsible for “movement intention”. This development marks an exciting milestone in the field.
The company claims that these threads enable its experimental implant to wirelessly record and transmit brain signals to an app that decodes the user’s intended movements. The implant is powered by a wireless rechargeable battery.
“In the future, this [development] could greatly benefit individuals with neurological disorders and serves as a remarkable illustration of how fundamental neuroscience research is being utilised for medical progress,” stated Professor Tara Spires-Jones, president of the British Neuroscience Association.
“Nevertheless, the majority of these interfaces necessitate invasive neurosurgery and are currently in the experimental phases. As a result, it will probably take several years before they become widely accessible.”
In a recent update on X, Mr. Musk revealed that Neuralink’s upcoming product will be named Telepathy.
According to him, telepathy would allow for effortless control of various devices, including phones and computers, simply through the power of thought.
“The individuals who will benefit initially are those who have experienced limb impairment,” he added.
He mentioned the late British scientist who had motor neurone disease, and pondered what it would be like if Stephen Hawking could communicate at an incredibly fast pace. That is the objective.”
Although Mr. Musk’s participation brings attention to Neuralink, there are competitors with a long history dating back twenty years. In 2004, Blackrock Neurotech, based in Utah, successfully implanted its first brain-computer interface, marking the beginning of a series of groundbreaking achievements.
Precision Neuroscience, established by one of the co-founders of Neuralink, is dedicated to assisting individuals who suffer from paralysis. The implant has a thin design that rests on the brain’s surface and can be easily implanted using a simplified procedure called “cranial micro-slit”.
Results have also been generated by existing devices. Two recent scientific studies in the US have utilised implants to track brain activity during speech attempts, allowing for potential breakthroughs in communication assistance.