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Elon Musk’s company is allowed to test brain implants

Elon Musk’s company is allowed to test brain implants
Elon Musk’s company is allowed to test brain implants

The company Neuralink announced on Thursday that it has received the thumbs up from the American agency FDA to test its brain implants on humans.

The company, which has tested the technology on animals, has had its applications rejected several times in the past because they did not meet all the requirements. But now there has been a yes. Several news outlets report that they have sought both the FDA and Neuralink without receiving specific answers on exactly what is to be tested.

Although it sounds like science fiction, the implantation of electrodes in the brain is already used today in certain medical conditions. Parkinson’s, chronic pain and depression are examples where what is known as DBS, deep brain stimulation, can improve the condition of patients by sending electrical impulses to the brain.

Elon Musk has talked about the technology, in addition to being able to make paralyzed people walk and be used in a number of different diseases, should be able to optimize people who use it by sending in and inhibiting signals.

No published results

Jens Schouenborg, professor of neurophysiology at Lund University, has conducted research in the field for many years.

– It is an incredibly exciting field where a lot is happening, but I find it difficult to comment on what Elon Musk is planning because they have not published their results. But based on what I have seen that they have done in trials with pigs, they insert relatively small electrodes, he says.

Jens Schouenborg leads the work at the university’s Neuronano research center and has also started the company Neuronano for the development of brain stimulation for clinical use. Together with his research group, he has developed a new technique for individually tailored and side-effect-free therapeutic brain stimulation. They hope to begin testing the technology on humans in less than a year.

Implants in the skull

As I said, Elon Musk has a different vision and has, among other things, previously told the media that his company has a monkey with a wireless implant in its skull that can play computer games. According to Elon Musk, the monkey must have looked happy.

– It is difficult to know what the purpose of the now approved FDA trials is because no information has been given yet. From what I’ve seen, their technology isn’t designed to be implanted into deeper brain structures – it’s possibly about recording nerve cell signaling in the cerebral cortex, and probably for a shorter period of time.

Ethical questions

An important aspect when working with the brain in research and clinic is the ethical one. For example, is there a risk of negative impact on personality that is not outweighed by the benefits of the therapeutic effects?

– Ethics is extremely important and it is a discussion that needs to be held in parallel with the development of technology, otherwise we risk ending up on the wrong side. But it must be remembered that psychotropic drugs give rise to similar ethical questions, says Jens Schouenborg.

TT: Have you seen a similar ethical discussion at Neuralink?

– No, I actually don’t have that. But they have had their application approved by the FDA and it includes a certain amount of ethical considerations.

The company has previously received criticism for conducting unnecessary and unethical animal experiments in connection with the brain implants.

The brain is made up of tens of billions of neurons, which communicate through chemical signaling substances. When this happens, a weak current pulse occurs, which can be detected by an electrode.

The smaller the electrodes, the less risk there is of it damaging or affecting surrounding tissue.

The electrodes can be used both to record the activity in the brain and to influence it by sending in signals. This may involve the treatment of, for example, Parkinson’s disease and severe pain and epilepsy.


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The article is in Swedish

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