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Elon Musk expects Neuralink to test brain chip implants in human patients in 6 months

origin 1Neuralink is developing interfaces for brain chips that it says could allow disabled patients to move and communicate again, and even restore vision in the blind. ©Canva

Elon Musk expects a coin-sized wireless brain chip developed by his company Neuralink to begin human clinical trials in six months, after the company missed earlier timelines set by the billionaire CEO.

Neuralink is developing brain chip interfaces that could allow disabled patients to move and communicate again, and Musk says he will also aim at restoring vision.

Based in the San Francisco Bay Area and Austin, Texas, Neuralink has been conducting animal testing for the past few years as it seeks approval from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to begin clinical trials.

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“We want to be extremely careful and certain that it will work well before we put a device into a human,” Musk said during a much-anticipated public update on the device Wednesday.

‘At first, progress, especially with humans, may seem excruciatingly slow, but we are doing everything we can to bring it to a parallel scale,’ he added. “So, in theory, progress should be exponential.”

The first two human applications targeted by the Neuralink device will be in restoring vision and enabling muscle movement in people who can’t, Musk said.

“Even if someone has never had sight, never, like if they were born blind, we believe we can still restore sight,” he said.

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Late big ambitions

The event was originally scheduled for October 31, but Musk postponed it a few days earlier, without giving a reason.

Neuralink’s last public presentation, more than a year ago, involved a monkey with a brain chip playing the computer game Pong.

Musk, who also runs electric vehicle maker Tesla, rocket company SpaceX, and social media platform Twitter, is known for ambitious goals like colonizing Mars and saving humanity.

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His ambitions for Neuralink, which he launched in 2016, are of the same magnitude.

He wants to develop a chip that allows the brain to control complex electronic devices and eventually allow people with paralysis to regain motor function and treat brain diseases such as Parkinson’s, dementia and Alzheimer’s. He also talks about merging the brain with artificial intelligence.

Neuralink, however, is lagging behind.

Musk said in a 2019 presentation that he aimed to receive regulatory approval by the end of 2020. He then said in a conference call in late 2021 that he hoped to begin human trials this year.

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Neuralink has repeatedly missed internal deadlines to get FDA approval to begin human trials, current and former employees said.

Rival company Synchron has already moved forward with human trials of a brain interface designed to allow people with paralysis to wirelessly control digital devices through thought.

The neural implant being tested does not require open brain surgery, but is inserted through a small slit in the neck through the jugular vein and pushed into the brain.

Synchron reached a major milestone in July by implanting its device in a patient in the United States for the first time, and has already completed studies on four people in Australia.

Musk approached Synchron earlier this year about a potential investment after expressing frustration with Neuralink employees over their slow progress, Reuters reported in August.