Elon Musk’s pioneering neurotechnology venture, Neuralink, has reached a significant milestone as it embarks on the recruitment phase for its inaugural in-human clinical trial, known as the PRIME Study.
In a recent blog post, Neuralink unveiled this crucial development, signifying its progression towards market realisation.
The announcement comes on the heels of the company’s recent clearance from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in May, granting approval for its maiden in-human clinical investigation.
Participation in this trial entails a profound commitment, as patients will undergo invasive brain surgery.
Neuralink’s ambitious mission revolves around the development of a brain implant designed to empower individuals with severe paralysis.
The ultimate goal is to enable them to interface with external technologies solely through neural signals.
This innovation holds the potential to grant those grappling with debilitating conditions like ALS the ability to reconnect with loved ones by harnessing the power of their thoughts, manoeuvring cursors, and even typing with their minds.
Neuralink stands at the forefront of the burgeoning brain-computer interface (BCI) industry, dedicated to deciphering neural signals and translating them into commands for external devices.
While several companies have made notable strides in this field, Neuralink enjoys unparalleled recognition, largely attributed to the involvement of Elon, who serves as the CEO of both Tesla and SpaceX.
As of September, no BCI enterprise has secured the coveted final approval from the FDA.
In the blog post, the company stated:
“The initial goal of our BCI is to grant people the ability to control a computer cursor or keyboard using their thoughts alone.”
Nevertheless, Neuralink’s achievement of the green light to commence patient recruitment marks a significant stride towards realizing its vision and underscores the company’s commitment to advancing the frontiers of neurotechnology.
The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM), an organisation dedicated to advocating for ethical scientific research, has taken a significant step by urging the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to investigate Elon.
This appeal follows Elon’s recent claim that no monkeys have perished due to Neuralink’s brain implant.
In a letter, PCRM has specifically requested an SEC investigation into Elon for potential securities fraud, citing his statement dated 10 September.
In his response to a user’s post, Elon declared, “no monkey has died as a result of a Neuralink implant.”
This assertion pertains to a revolutionary chip designed to enable human-device connections remotely.
However, PCRM contends in its SEC communication that his statement is factually incorrect. The organisation asserts that he possesses knowledge to the contrary.
PCRM’s prior investigations into Neuralink’s practices revealed records obtained from the University of California, Davis, where Neuralink’s experiments were conducted.
These records, published on PCRM’s website, documented the considerable suffering experienced by monkeys subjected to inadequate animal care and highly invasive head implants during experiments.
Numerous monkeys with implanted chips encountered a range of health complications, including infections and brain swelling, ultimately leading to euthanasia.
Additional health consequences encompassed paralysis, seizures, loss of coordination, depression, and other debilitating effects.
The experimental procedures involved extensive surgeries and the drilling of “dime-sized” holes into the monkeys’ heads to implant the devices.
Of particular concern was the observation of a 6-year-old female rhesus macaque, labelled “Animal 15,” engaging in behaviours such as manipulating the implants, head pressing, and exhibiting a decline in coordination.
The researchers also noted instances where the monkey displayed social behaviours, such as holding hands and grooming her “visual buddy.”
In March 2019, a “cranial implant infection” was documented, and Animal 15 was euthanised during that month.
The University of California, Davis, declined to provide further comments beyond their statement issued last year:
“UC Davis did have a research collaboration with Neuralink, which concluded in 2020. The research protocols were thoroughly reviewed and approved by the campus’s Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC). The work was conducted by Neuralink researchers in facilities at the California National Primate Research Center at UC Davis. UC Davis staff provided veterinary care including round-the-clock monitoring of experimental animals. When an incident occurred, it was reported to the IACUC, which mandated training and protocol changes as needed.”
PCRM’s appeal to the SEC underscores the gravity of ethical concerns surrounding Neuralink’s experiments and aims to ensure transparency and accountability in the pursuit of scientific advancements.