2024-01-30| R&DTechnology

Neuralink Ground-breaking Brain Implant Makes its First Stride in Human: Potential for Paralysis Recovery

by Oscar Wu
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On Jan 30, The first human patient successfully received a brain implant from Neuralink, the company co-founded by Elon Musk. This milestone event was revealed on Elon Musk’s personal X, confirming the patient’s good recovery. The implant named “Telepathy” is part of Neuralink’s groundbreaking work in brain-machine interfaces or brain-computer interfaces (BCI), which is expected to enable people with severe movement impairments, such as quadriplegia, to control devices using their thoughts.

The implant is a significant advancement in the field of BCI, a direct communication pathway between the brain and an external device. BCI translates brain activity (electrical signals) into commands that can control machines, software, or even robotic limbs. Neuralink’s technology, known as “Link,” is a device about the size of five stacked coins, surgically implanted in the brain. It functions by transmitting signals via ultra-fine threads in the participants’ brains.

Brain Implant Breakthrough: First Human Receives Neuralink Technology

Neuralink has been preparing for human trials for quite a long time, having received clearance from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration last year to test its implant in humans. This PRIME trial program (Precise Robotically Implanted Brain-Computer Interface) aims to test the safety of the innovative surgical device “R1 Surgical Robot” and the operational functionality of the “N1 Implant”.

In the early stages of the trial, the R1 surgical robot will be used. This instrument’s head contains optical components and sensors of five camera systems, as well as optical components for Optical Coherence Tomography (OCT). It can grasp, insert, and release threads using a needle-like structure finer than a human hair at the front end.

The N1 neural probe (N1 Implant), extremely thin and flexible, will be implanted into the motor control area of the participants’ brains. This probe is equipped with 1024 electrodes on 64 threads, each finer than human hair, to record neural activity. 

Once the implantation surgery is completed, this probe will continuously record brain activity signals and wirelessly transmit them to the N1 User App, which decodes motor intentions. Participants will be asked to use their thoughts to control a computer cursor or keyboard to complete task objectives.

Research Focus and Future Considerations: Safety, Efficacy, and Beyond

Despite the promising prospects of BCI technology, it still faces several challenges. Firstly, there’s the complexity of the technology (biocompatibility, signal fidelity, and long-term stability) and the high costs associated with it. The development of BCI technology requires significant funding and expertise, which currently limits its widespread application. 

Secondly, the complexity and individual variability of the human brain’s neural system also pose difficulties for the research and application of BCI. For example, the immune encapsulation response caused by the implantation of neural electrodes is a major challenge. However, with continuous investment in research technology, these problems are expected to be gradually resolved.

The equipment used in this study is solely for research purposes and has not yet been marketed. The safety and efficacy of this technology will continue to be closely monitored, considering the importance and sensitivity of BCI research.

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