Elon Musk’s brain implant company Neuralink has been cleared to start recruiting patients for its first human trial.
The US start-up, which wants to insert microchips into human brains, has said it secured approval from an independent review board and a hospital partner.
Mr Musk said Neuralink’s chips could cure paralysis and help restore vision to blind people.
The initial trials will focus on helping people with paralysis control devices using their thoughts, with brain signals picked up by the Neuralink implant.
People over the age of 22 who have lost the use of all their limbs can apply to be part of the trial. The study is expected to last six years.
The study will include testing the company’s R1 Robot, which will surgically insert Neuralink’s N1 chip into the patient’s brain and wire it up with tiny filaments.
The trial will also test a wireless app that can decode brain signals and control a computer cursor and keyboard.
Neuralink said its “prime” study was an important step in creating a “generalised brain interface to restore autonomy to those with unmet medical needs”.
The company has previously released a video showing a monkey equipped with a Neuralink device playing a video game with its mind.
Animal cruelty backlash
However, Neuralink has been criticised over claims its experiments on animals have resulted in needless deaths. Reuters previously reported that around 1,500 animals have died in Neuralink experiments, including pigs, sheep and monkeys.
While animal deaths during the development of medical devices are not uncommon, former employees have claimed that Neuralink’s demand for speed had led to more than necessary.
The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, a campaign group which opposes animal testing, alleged that Neuralink experiments have included “animal cruelty” and “sloppy scientific studies”.
Last year, US politicians Earl Blumenauer and Adam Schiff wrote to the US Department of Agriculture to demand greater scrutiny of Neuralink. The congressmen said that “serious allegations have been levelled against Elon Musk’s company Neuralink”.
“These complaints include graphic descriptions of botched experiments and unnecessary animal suffering and death, reportedly as a result of pressure from Mr Musk to irresponsibly accelerate development,” they said.
Neuralink has previously said that, as part of its work with a US university, several animals were euthanised during brain-chip experiments.
These included one surgical complication, a device failure and four infections after surgery. However, the company has insisted that its experiments met legal standards.
Earlier this month, Mr Musk said “no monkey has died as a result of a Neuralink implant”, adding that the company chose “terminal monkeys” that were “close to death already”.
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