Synchron, Elon Musk’s Neuralink rival, has begun human trials on six severely paralyzed patients in the United States to enable them to control digital devices hands-free using only their thoughts.
Synchron, based in the United States, is an endovascular brain-computer interface company that competes with Musk’s Neuralink, which also aims to enable paralyzed people to use computers and phones solely through their brain activities.
Synchron said in a statement that its Stentrode device, which is the size of a paper clip, is implanted to the motor cortex of the brain via the jugular vein in a minimally invasive procedure.
Once implanted, it translates brain activity into a standardised digital language, allowing patients to complete everyday tasks such as texting, emailing, online shopping, and accessing telehealth services without using their hands.
Six patients with severe paralysis will be enrolled in the company’s new clinical trial in New York and Pittsburgh.
The device has already been implanted and tested in four Australian patients, and this is the first time it will be tested in the United States.
According to the company, the trial on Australian patients demonstrated that the technology is safe.
The new trials are “a major milestone for people living with paralysis,” according to Tom Oxley, CEO and founder of Synchron.
Instead of drilling into the skull, the Stentrode is fed through a patient’s vein until it reaches the brain.
The device expands to line the vessel wall and is made of a net-like material with 16 sensors attached. That device is linked to a chest-mounted electronic device, which converts brain signals from the motor cortex, the part of the brain that generates signals for movement, into commands for a laptop computer.
Synchron is the only company that has received FDA approval to conduct clinical trials of a permanently implanted BCI. The company’s innovative BCI technology uses blood vessels as natural highways to the brain.
If the Stentrode brain implant is successful, it could be sold as a commercial product to help paralysis patients regain their independence and quality of life.
The company’s new clinical trial, Command, is being conducted under the FDA’s first investigational device exemption (IDE). An IDE authorizes the use of a device in a clinical study to collect data on its safety and effectiveness.
“The Command study progresses Synchron’s technology development through the feasibility stage as we prepare for our pivotal trial,” said Oxley.