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Neuralink (Elon Musk-founded Neurotechnology Company) seeks human participants for brain-implant trial

Neuralink, a neurotechnology company founded by Elon Musk along with seven scientists and engineers, has started recruitment process seeking participants for its first human brain-implant trial. The study has given the name ‘PRIME’ or ‘Precise Robotically Implanted Brain-Computer Interface.’ In May, the USFDA granted permission to the company for the trial.

Who all are eligible?

Those quadriplegic due to a cervical spinal cord injury may be eligible; persons with ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) may qualify too. Neuralink has created a patient registry for people who may want to know whether they are eligible for the study or not. In a brochure available on its website, Neuralink states that it is on the lookout for participants who have quadriplegia, or paralysis in all four limbs, due to ALS or cervical spinal cord injury, and are not less than 22 years old. For those selected to participate, the study will involve a blend of nine at-home and in-person clinic visits over 18 months. Neuralink expects the study will take six years.

The study

In a statement on its website, the firm informed that the study has been given the name ‘PRIME’ (Precise Robotically Implanted Brain-Computer Interface). The exercise is a ‘ground-breaking medical device trial for our fully-implementable, wireless brain-computer interface (BCI),’ it added.

The objective

Target of the study is to gauge the safety of Neuralink’s N1 implant and R1 surgical robot, and evaluate the initial functionality of the BCI to empower people with paralysis to employ their thoughts to control external devices.

What will happen during the study?

The R1 (robot) will surgically implant the N1 (implant) in an area of the brain that controls movement-related thoughts. N1 will record and convey brain signals wirelessly to a movement intention tracking app. The company has said nothing about the exact area of the brain its device will be inserted in, which hospital has granted the institutional review board approval, nor number of participants it will eventually enrol in the study.

At a Neuralink “show and tell” held last November, Musk shared his opinion about two possible use cases for the implant, to aid people with paralysis control tech devices and to restore vision. But no mention of a vision prosthetic was there in this release. The initial objective is to make people control a computer cursor, or keyboard, solely with their thoughts.

Conclusion

Neuralink is among the select few companies competing to bring a BCI to market. Although such devices have been used in experiments since the 1960s, none is accessible commercially. Other research efforts have made paralyzed people control prosthetic limbs and computers with their thoughts, or to speak using a computer, mostly in lab settings. Synchron, one of Neuralink’s fierce competitors, has shown that using its implant paralyzed patients can do online banking, shopping, and emailing sitting at their home.

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