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26th May 2023

Elon Musk’s brain chip approved for human trials

Jack Peat

It could offer a cure for paralysis and blindness

A brain chip being developed by Elon Musk-backed Neuralink has received approval from the US Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) to conduct its first tests on humans.

The company, founded in 2016, has been developing microchips to treat conditions such as paralysis and blindness, and to help certain disabled people use computers and mobile technology.

The chips – which have been tested in monkeys – are designed to interpret signals produced in the brain and relay information to devices via Bluetooth.

Neuralink sought FDA approval in early 2022 but the agency rejected the application on safety grounds.

The trials on monkeys were said to have caused “extreme suffering”, according to the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM), which found evidence of possible self-mutilation.

It has now passed the significant hurdle and could imminently start recruiting participants to take part in tests for the game-changing technology.

Announcing Thursday’s news on Twitter, Neuralink talked of an “important first step that will one day allow our technology to help many people”.

The approval was “the result of incredible work by the Neuralink team in close collaboration with the FDA”, it said.

The firm promised more information “soon” on plans to sign up trial participants.

Experts have cautioned that Neuralink’s brain implants will require extensive testing to overcome technical and ethical challenges if they are to become widely available.

The company – which was co-founded by Mr Musk in 2016 – has repeatedly overestimated the speed at which it can execute its plans.

Its initial aim was to start planting chips in human brains in 2020, in order to honour a pledge made the year before. It later vowed to get started in 2022.

The business was dealt another setback in December last year, after reportedly coming under investigation for alleged animal welfare violations in its work. It earlier denied similar claims.

Its announcement on FDA approval for human tests follows recent news of a similar breakthrough involving brain implants by Swiss researchers.

A paralysed man from the Netherlands was able to walk simply by thinking about it – thanks to a system of implants which wirelessly transmit his thoughts to his legs and feet.

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