Elon Musk said that the first human patient has received a brain implant from his startup Neuralink Corp., a significant step forward for the company that aims to one day let humans control computers with their minds.
In a post on X, formerly Twitter, Musk said that the patient is recovering well, and that initial results of the procedure were promising.
Neuralink’s brain implant aims to help people with traumatic injuries operate computers using only their thoughts. In May, the company said it had received approval from the US Food and Drug Administration to conduct its first human trials. And late last year Neuralink said it was recruiting patients with quadriplegia due to cervical spinal cord injury or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) for the trial.
On X, Musk wrote that Neuralink’s first product would be called Telepathy. It will enable “control of your phone or computer, and through them almost any device, just by thinking,” he said Monday. Musk added that the product’s initial users will be people who have lost the use of their limbs. “Imagine if Stephen Hawking could communicate faster than a speed typist or auctioneer,” he wrote. “That is the goal.”
Musk said that Neuralink had good results for neuron spike detection — that means the company is getting recordings from the patient’s brain, said Kip Ludwig, co-director of the Wisconsin Institute for Translational Neuroengineering at the University of Wisconsin. Now, Neuralink needs to show it can do more than other leading companies in the area, such as Blackrock Neurotech and Synchron, he said.
Neuralink has already conducted extensive tests on animals. In those tests, monkeys have been able to play computer games using their brains alone. The experiments have raised alarms with some animal rights groups, such as the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, for the company’s work with primates.
For several years, Musk has said that implanting a human with his device was imminent. In July 2019, he predicted surgery in a human head by year’s end. Meanwhile, other companies such as Synchron moved ahead implanting their own devices into human brains, opening Neuralink to the suggestion it was falling behind. Monday’s news will likely blunt that criticism.
The long timetable underscores how tough the task ahead is for Neuralink. The startup’s chips aim to go just a few millimetres into the brain. That’s still deeper than many other systems, such as the one in development from Precision Neuroscience, which sits on top of the brain tissue.
Typically, first-in-human trials, which is the type of study Neuralink just launched, enroll five to 10 people and take around six months. If it goes well, Neuralink can start what’s know as a feasibility study, and finally, a pivotal study. Last year, Neuralink said it expected to perform 11 surgeries in 2024.
Despite the progress, a commercial brain implant isn’t imminent. “I do think there’s a danger in overhyping it,” Neuralink adviser Jaimie Henderson, a neurosurgery professor at Stanford University, said in an interview that took place last week, before Monday’s news was announced. Henderson said he was excited about the technology, but added an approved device is still years away.
By Bloomberg news