Neuralink, a brain-interface technology company owned by billionaire Elon Musk, has announced that it is recruiting for human clinical trials to test the safety of its brain chip implants. The company received approval from an independent institutional review board to evaluate how the chips affect people with paralysis.
The clinical trial, called PRIME (Precise Robotically Implanted Brain-Computer Interface), will recruit volunteers who have quadriplegia caused by a spinal injury or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).
The trial will implant the N1 device in the participants’ brains using Neuralink’s R1 Robot to monitor movement signals that will extend from the person’s brain activity to control a computer device such as a cursor or keyboard through their thoughts.
The primary focus of the trial is to “grant people the ability to control a computer cursor or keyboard using their thoughts alone.” This could have a profound impact on the lives of people with paralysis, who are often unable to communicate or interact with the world around them without assistance.
Neuralink has not said when it will begin testing its chip implants on humans or when it might become widely available to the public. However, the clinical trial document notes that the study will be conducted over approximately six years.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved Neuralink’s shift from animal testing to in-human clinical trials in May. However, the agency had previously denied the company’s request for human trials over safety concerns, including the device’s lithium battery, the possibility of the implant’s wires shifting to other areas of the brain, and uncertainty about how the device would be removed without causing damage to brain tissue.
Prior to its announcement, Neuralink had only tested its device on pigs and monkeys. Those tests drew scrutiny following reports that they caused the animals unnecessary suffering. Records reportedly revealed that the company killed roughly 1,500 animals, which included more than 280 sheep, pigs, and monkeys since it started experiments in 2018.
In February of last year, Neuralink acknowledged that monkeys had died as a result of the testing, but denied the allegations of animal cruelty.
The sources for this piece include an article in Gizmodo.