The first human patient received an implant from brain-chip startup Neuralink on Sunday and is recovering well, the company’s billionaire founder Elon Musk said.
“Initial results show promising neuron spike detection,” Musk said in a post on the social media platform X on Monday.
Spikes are activity by neurons, which the National Institute of Health describes as cells that use electrical and chemical signals to send information around the brain and to the body.
The goal is to supercharge human capabilities, treat neurological disorders like ALS and Parkinson’s, and maybe one day achieve a symbiotic relationship between humans and artificial intelligence.
The US Food and Drug Administration gave the company clearance last year to conduct its first trial to test its implant on humans, a critical milestone in the startup’s ambitions to help patients overcome paralysis and a host of neurological conditions.
In September, Neuralink said it received approval for recruitment for the human trial.
The study uses a robot to surgically place a brain-computer interface (BCI) implant in a region of the brain that controls the intention to move, Neuralink said previously, adding that its initial goal is to enable people to control a computer cursor or keyboard using their thoughts alone.
The implants’ “ultra-fine” threads help transmit signals in participants’ brains, Neuralink has said.
Neuralink’s technology will mainly work through an implant called the “Link” — a device about the size of five stacked coins that is placed inside the human brain through invasive surgery.
The first product from Neuralink would be called Telepathy, Musk said in a separate post on X.
The device “Enables control of your phone or computer, and through them almost any device, just by thinking. Initial users will be those who have lost the use of their limbs.”
“Imagine if Stephen Hawking could communicate faster than a speed typist or auctioneer. That is the goal,” he added referring to the acclaimed physicist who died in 2018. Hawking defied predictions he would only live for a few years after developing a form of motor neuron disease that left him confined to a wheelchair. He famously overcame its debilitating effects on his mobility and speech that left him paralyzed and able to communicate only via a computer speech synthesizer.
The startup’s PRIME Study is a trial for its wireless brain-computer interface to evaluate the safety of the implant and surgical robot.
Neuralink did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for further details.
The company has faced calls for scrutiny regarding its safety protocols. Reuters reported earlier this month that the company was fined for violating US Department of Transportation (DOT) rules regarding the movement of hazardous materials.
Neuralink was valued at about $5 billion last June, but four lawmakers in late November asked the US Securities and Exchange Commission to investigate whether Musk had misled investors about the safety of its technology after veterinary records showed problems with the implants on monkeys included paralysis, seizures and brain swelling.
Musk wrote in a social media post on September 10 that “no monkey has died as a result of a Neuralink implant.” He added that the company chose “terminal” monkeys to minimize risk to healthy ones.
Though he wins most of the headlines, Musk is hardly alone in trying to make advances in the field, which is officially known as brain-machine or brain-computer interface research.
Hit with delays, the tycoon had reportedly reached out to join forces with implant developer Synchron about a potential investment.
Unlike Neuralink’s Link, its implant version does not require cutting into the skull to install it.
The Australia-based Synchron implanted its first device in a US patient in July 2022.