Neuralink, the brain implant startup led by billionaire Elon Musk, is recruiting patients for a clinical trial, a long-awaited step that brings the science fiction-esque technology closer to human reality.
In a blog post, the company said it was recruiting patients with quadriplegia due to cervical spinal cord injury or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) for the trial. Neuralink plans to evaluate the safety and functionality of its tool allowing people to manipulate external devices with their minds.
The initial goal “is to grant people the ability to control a computer cursor or keyboard using their thoughts alone,” the company said in the post.
The announcement marks a highly anticipated moment for the startup, which has created a wave of interest in the field of brain implants.
While Musk has discussed far-out targets for Neuralink — such as helping people learn languages or communicating thoughts mentally — he has also consistently said that its first project would be to help ameliorate brain injuries.
Several other companies working on similar technology have previously succeeded in embedding devices in brains. Synchron Inc. implanted its first device in a US patient via blood vessels rather than brain surgery. Synchron inserts its device via a surgical incision in the base of the neck and then maneuvers the implant to its destination in the brain.
Early Food and Drug Administration approval for Neuralink’s trial came in May this year with an investigational device exemption, which allows medical device makers to move ahead with human trials. The company said it had also received approval from the hospital where it will perform the first surgeries, but did not name the hospital.
The path to the next set of trials and eventual widespread deployment is a long one. In May, Victor Krauthamer, a professor at George Washington University and the former director of the division of Biomedical Physics at the FDA, noted: “It usually takes years.”