Elon Musk, the Sadboi Technoking, just got a new reason to pout — the U.S Food and Drug Administration yesterday approved a company to begin conducting the first-ever human trials of an implantable brain-computer interface (BCI)… and that company is most certainly not his company Neuralink. The bragging rights instead will go to Synchron, a 20-person tech firm whose “Stentrode” motor neuroprosthesis device can now enter into its early feasibility study at New York’s Mount Sinai Hospital later this year.
“Other implantable BCI approaches involve drilling into the skull and placing needle electrodes directly into the brain tissue, which can result in long-term brain inflammation,” explains Synchron in its press release, a sentence totally not meant to throw shade at Musk’s company at all. Instead, the Stentrode device is “delivered into the brain via the blood vessels” during a minimally invasive 2-hour operation akin to heart stents (hence, we assume, the device’s name). “No robotic assistance is required for the procedure, which can be performed in widely available angiography suites. The implant is fully internalized with no wires coming out of the head or body.”
Near-term goals include paralyzed patients using the implant to “wirelessly control external devices by thinking about moving their limbs,” which can be applied to tasks like texting, emailing, and accessing telemedicine services. No word yet from Musk or his prized half-machine macaque, Pager.
Similar Synchron trials already underway in Australia — It’s important to note that, while these are the first human trials here in America, Synchron has already been running similar tests in Australia with demonstrably positive results. In a scientific journal article from last October, Synchron detailed its findings from two of the four patients in the study who could “control their devices to text and type through direct thought” using their Stentrode implants, eventually being able to text, shop online, and manage finances on their own with no supervision.
“Whole-brain data transfer” goals — Of course, it wouldn’t be a story about brain-machine merging without references to some dark clouds on the horizon. “Synchron’s north star is to achieve whole-brain data transfer,” Synchron CEO Thomas Oxley, MD, PhD. says in the press release. “Our first target is the motor cortex for treatment of paralysis, which represents a large unmet need for millions of people across the world, and market opportunity of $20B.”
“Whole-brain data transfer,” we assume, is exactly what it sounds like: the uploading of “consciousness,” such as it is, into a digital format. So, while we can bask in Elon Musk getting shafted by the FDA, it doesn’t sound like Synchron’s goals are all that far off from the Technoking’s. But hey, until then, anything to improve the lives of those with motor impairments is great to see.