Yesterday, September 20, was an important day for Elon Musk cofounded Neuralink, a neurotechnology company developing implantable brain-computer interfaces (BCIs), as it received approval from an independent review board to begin recruiting for its first human trials. The company is currently focused on curing a disease called quadriplegia (paralysis to all four limbs) using brain implants. The company has been in the news for both its remarkable innovation as well as criticisms of impossible-sounding claims. If you are trying to find out about the company and its achievements so far, read on.
10 things about Neuralink
1. Neuralink was founded in 2016 by Elon Musk and a founding team of seven scientists and engineers. The company’s aim was to build a direct communication channel between the brain and computers.
2. As per reports, Neuralink is building a 4mm-square chipset, called N1, which is meant to be implanted into the inside of the skull. The chip has extremely thin wires attached to it that reach into the brain. The wires can receive and detect brain signals that are relayed between neurons, and they can generate their own impulse as well, which imitates that of the neurons. According to the company, the N1 chip can connect with 1000 different brain cells. A patient can have up to 10 chips implanted, the company claims.
3. These chips will also connect wirelessly to a wearable device that is hooked to the patient’s ear. This device looks like a hearing aid and contains Bluetooth functionality. While the company claims that the earliest chips will be implanted via traditional neurosurgery, eventually, it will be replaced with a minor painless procedure that will be conducted by a robot surgeon. It is not known if the company is working on that.
4. These brain-computer interfaces (BCI) are claimed by Neuralink to help patients with neurological disorders that are caused by the inability of the brain to connect to the nerves of a body part. These can be limbs, ears, eyes, tongue, and more. This can also help people suffering from conditions such as epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease, paraplegia, and quadriplegia.
5. In August 2020, only three of the eight founding scientists remained at the company, according to a report by Stat News which reported that Neuralink had seen “years of internal conflict in which rushed timelines have clashed with the slow and incremental pace of science”.
6. In April 2021, Neuralink shared a video where a monkey was sitting in front of a computer display with the game Pong on it. The company claimed that the monkey was playing the game using a Neuralink implant.
7. In June 2023, Neuralink received the US Food and Drugs Administration’s (FDA) approval to launch its first-in-human clinical study. Recently, the company also received approval from an independent review board.
8. Ever since the company came to public light, company cofounder Elon Musk has been making some big claims about its BCIs. At the 2020 Neuralink event, Musk called the implants “kind of like Fitbit in your skull with tiny wires”, as per a report by Analytics India Mag.
9. Some other claims made by Musk include going to the hospital in the morning (to get an implant) and leaving by the afternoon. He also said it could be possible to restore full body motion (for a paralyzed patient) in the long run. He also claimed people would be able to save and replay memories.
10. As the company prepares to recruit human patients, a report by Wired has revealed some shocking information. The report suggests, that as many as a dozen of Neuralink’s test monkeys had to be euthanized after contracting health issues such as partial paralysis, swelling of the brain, and bloody diarrhea. The report further reveals that a male monkey had to be euthanized in March 2020 after his cranial implant became loose, although it expressly states that the implant’s failure was due to a mechanical issue.