The race to implant the first working brain-computer interface in the US has been won by startup Synchron. The company outpaced Elon Musk’s much-publicized Neuralink, successfully achieving the feat.
First computer brain implant in US successfully achieved
What if you could write and send an email or a text, or even shop online, simply by using your thoughts? If you suffer from disabilities in your hands, it would be a tremendous asset in today’s world. This ability is now a reality.
A successful implant connecting the brain to a computer that allows individuals to write, text, email, navigate the web, and shop online was achieved by a startup named Synchron, who just announced their first successful human brain-computer interface (BCI) implant in the United States on Tuesday, Mass Device reported.
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved Synchron in July 2021 to begin human trials.
While it marks the first implant in the United States, the company has already implanted its devices in four patients in Australia, who, after 12 months, reportedly have had no side effects. They have been able to send messages through WhatsApp and make online purchases, Fortune reported.
About the procedure and first US brain implant patient
The patient selected to receive the brain-computer implant was an individual suffering from the progressive neurodegenerative disease ALS, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. ALS affects nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord. For this specific individual, it affected the patient’s ability to move and speak.
The procedure was performed at Mount Sinai West in New York, led by Dr. Shahram Majidi, assistant professor of neurosurgery, neurology, and radiology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.
“The implantation procedure went extremely well, and the patient was able to go home 48 hours after the surgery,” Dr. Majidi said.
How the computer-brain implant works
The aim of the BCI device is to help a patient translate thoughts into command signals to the computer, which then translates those into actions such as browsing the web and communicating via text and email with a computer or smartphone.
The technique utilized by Synchron involves inserting a stentrode (stent electrode) into the brain without the need to cut through a patient’s skull or damage any tissue. A surgeon makes an incision in the patient’s neck, then inserts a catheter into a blood vessel within the motor complex, through which the stentrode is implanted.
The next procedure involves implanting a computing device into the patient’s chest.
When neurons fire in the brain, the stentrode reads the signal and sends that signal to the computing device in the chest. The chest device then sends a command to an external computer or phone via Bluetooth.
Musk loses race to achieve first brain implant in US
Neuralink, the highly publicized company co-founded by Elon Musk, has long captured headlines in its quest to develop a working brain-computer interface.
However, Neuralink has yet to get approval from the FDA. It could be because the approach used by the company involves utilizing a surgical robot to implant the device in the patient’s brain. The reason for the denial of FDA approval for Neuralink to conduct human trials is unclear.