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Elon Musk expects Neuralink’s brain chip to begin human trials in 6 months

Elon Musk expects Neuralink's brain chip to begin human trials in 6 months
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Nov 30 (Reuters) – Elon Musk said on Wednesday he expects a wireless brain chip developed by his company Neuralink to begin human clinical trials in six months, after the company missed earlier timelines it had set.

The company is developing brain-chip interfaces that it says could help disabled patients move and communicate again, and Musk added on Wednesday that it will also target vision restoration.

Based in the San Francisco Bay Area and Austin, Texas, Neuralink has been conducting animal testing for the past few years to seek U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval to begin clinical trials in humans.

“We want to be extremely careful and sure that it’s working well before we put a device in a human,” Musk said during a highly anticipated public update of the device.

In a presentation at Neuralink headquarters that lasted nearly three hours, Musk addressed a select crowd and emphasized the speed at which the company is developing its device.

“Progress may seem excruciatingly slow at first, especially when it comes to humans, but we’re doing all things to scale it in parallel,” he added. “So in theory, progress should be exponential.”

The FDA said it could not comment on the status or existence of potential product uses.

The first two human uses targeted by the Neuralink device will be vision restoration and enabling muscle movement in people who are unable to do so, Musk said. “Even if someone has never had vision, as if they were born blind, we believe we can restore vision,” he said.

Tesla Inc. founder Elon Musk speaks at The Boring Company’s unveiling event for the test tunnel of a proposed underground transportation network through Los Angeles County, in Hawthorne, California, U.S. December 18, 2018. Robyn Beck/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo

The event was originally scheduled for 10/31, but Musk rescheduled it just days before without giving a reason.

Neuralink’s last public presentation more than a year ago featured a monkey with a brain chip playing a computer game by thinking alone. Continue reading

Musk, who also runs electric vehicle maker Tesla (TSLA.O), the rocket company SpaceX and the social media platform Twitter, is known for lofty goals such as colonizing Mars and saving humanity. His ambitions for Neuralink, which he launched in 2016, are of the same grand scale.

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

However, Neuralink is behind schedule. Musk said in a 2019 presentation that he was aiming for regulatory approval by the end of 2020. At a conference in late 2021, he said he hoped to start human trials later this year.

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

Musk approached competitor Synchron about a potential investment earlier this year after expressing frustration to Neuralink employees at their slow progress. Reuters reported in August.

Synchron passed an important milestone in July with the first implantation of its device in a patient in the United States. It received regulatory approval from the US government for human trials in 2021 and has completed trials in four people in Australia.

Reporting by Rachael Levy in Washington, DC; Additional reporting by Ross Jane; Edited by Miyoung Kim and Muralikumar Anantharaman

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Rachel Levy

Thomson Reuters

Award-winning journalist on corporate governance. Their reporting has sparked federal and congressional scrutiny and has been featured on television and podcasts. At Politico, their Covid-19 coverage prompted the CDC to update guidance on N95 masks and the US hospital regulator to hear patient safety complaints. The former Wall Street Journal financial reporter earned her and her colleagues a 2021 Dateline Award from the Society of Professional Journalists for their exclusive coverage of Trump’s Kodak drug deal at the White House.

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