Elon Musk’s Neuralink rival Synchron has launched human trials on six severely paralysed patients in the US to enable them to control digital devices hands-free, using just thoughts.
The US-based Synchron is an endovascular brain-computer (BCI) interface company that competes with Musk’s Neuralink, which also aims to enable paralysed people to use computers and phones through their brain activities alone.
In a statement, Synchron said that its device named Stentrode, which is the size of a paper clip, is implanted to the motor cortex of the brain through the jugular vein in a minimally-invasive procedure.
Once implanted, it translates brain activity into a standardised digital language to allow patients to complete everyday tasks hands-free, on external devices including texting, emailing, online shopping and accessing telehealth services.
The company’s new clinical trial will enrol six patients in New York and Pittsburgh with severe paralysis.
The device has already been implanted and tested in four Australian patients, and the new clinical trial marks the first time it will be tested in the US.
The trial on Australian patients demonstrated the technology to be safe, the company said.
According to Tom Oxley, CEO and founder of Synchron, the new trials are “a major milestone for people living with paralysis”.
Rather than drilling through the skull, the Stentrode is fed through a patient’s vein until it reaches the brain.
The device, comprised of a net-like material with 16 sensors attached, expands to line the vessel wall. That device is connected to an electronic device in the chest that then relays the 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 to receive US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval to conduct clinical trials of a permanently implanted BCI. The company’s novel BCI technology leverages the blood vessels as the natural highways to the brain.
If successful, the Stentrode brain implant could be sold as a commercial product aimed at paralysis patients to regain their independence and quality of life.
The company’s new clinical trial, called Command, is being conducted under the first investigational device exemption (IDE) awarded by the FDA. An IDE allows a device to be used in a clinical study in order 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.