Neuralink: Elon Musk’s brainchild may soon start human trials

25 Jan 2022

Image: © Mopic/Stock.adobe.com

A job posting for a clinical trial director indicates that the brain-computer interface start-up is gearing up for human trials – but it doesn’t have FDA approval yet.

Neuralink, the brain-implant technology company founded by Elon Musk, is looking for a clinical trial director to lead the start-up’s research activities – indicating that it may be planning to attempt its first ever human trial.

The San Francisco-headquartered neurotechnology company was co-founded in 2016 by Musk along with experts in neuroscience and robotics. It aims to assist people with paralysis in interacting with devices such as computers and phones in a more naturalistic way.

Future Human

Neuralink has been working on a brain-computer interface activated through a chip that could be implanted into the human brain. It has previously trialled the technology with pigs and monkeys and is now potentially looking to take it to the next level.

“As the clinical trial director, you’ll work closely with some of the most innovative doctors and top engineers, as well as working with Neuralink’s first clinical trial participants,” the job description reads.

The successful candidate will help build and lead the team responsible for enabling clinical research activities for Neuralink and developing “the regulatory interactions that come with a fast-paced and ever-evolving environment”.

In 2020, Musk said that the start-up had secured breakthrough device designation from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). While this does not imply approval, the designation can speed up the regulatory process for high-potential medical devices.

In the long term, Musk hopes the Neuralink devices will enable people to achieve “superhuman cognition” – an achievement that may alleviate Musk’s own fears around AI superiority. The company’s first product, the N1 Link device, is an implant that transmits data via a wireless connection.

At a live event in 2020, Musk said that Neuralink had successfully implanted a coin-sized computer chip into a pig. Last year, the company demonstrated a monkey playing the classic video game Pong with its mind via two N1 Link chips embedded in its brain.

The start-up raised $205m in Series C funding last July, led by Dubai-based investment firm Vy Capital. A group of individual investors also contributed, including former Y Combinator president Sam Altman, Coinbase co-founder Fred Ehrsam, and PayPal co-founder Ken Howery.

In the same month, Neuralink rival Synchron was given FDA approval for an early feasibility study involving human test subjects. Last month, Synchron said a patient with ALS in Australia became the first person to tweet a message to the world using only direct thought via its implantable brain-computer interface. The message read: “Hello World”.

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Vish Gain is a journalist with Silicon Republic

editorial@siliconrepublic.com