Nov 30 (Reuters) – Elon Musk said on Wednesday he expects to begin human clinical trials within six months of a wireless brain chip developed by Neuralink, after the company missed earlier timelines he had set.
The company is developing brain-chip interfaces that it says can help disabled patients move and communicate again, Musk added on Wednesday, and will also aim to restore sight.
Neuralink, based in the San Francisco Bay Area and Austin, Texas, has been conducting animal tests in recent years to get approval from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to begin human clinical trials.
“We want to be extremely careful and make sure the device will work well before we put it on a human,” Musk said during a long-awaited public update on the device.
Speaking to a crowd of select invitees at a nearly three-hour presentation at Neuralink headquarters, Musk emphasized the speed with which the company is developing its device.
“At first, progress will perhaps seem painfully slow, especially as it relates to humans, but we’re doing everything we can to scale it in parallel,” he said. “So theoretically, progress should be exponential.”
The FDA said it could not comment on the status or availability of any potential product application.
The first two human applications the Neuralink device is targeting will be restoring vision and providing muscle movement in people who cannot, Musk said. “Even if someone never has sight, just as if they were born blind, we still believe we can restore sight,” he said.
The event was originally scheduled for October 31, but Musk postponed it a few days before giving reasons.
Neuralink’s last public presentation, more than a year ago, involved a monkey with a brain chip that thought alone and played a computer game. read more
Musk, who also runs electric car maker Tesla ( TSLA.O ), rocket firm SpaceX and social media platform Twitter, is known for his lofty goals of colonizing Mars and saving humanity. His ambitions for Neuralink, which he started in 2016, are equally grand.
He wants to develop a chip that allows the brain to control complex electronic devices, allowing paralyzed people to regain motor function and treat brain diseases such as Parkinson’s, dementia and Alzheimer’s. He also talks about mixing the brain with artificial intelligence.
And Neuralink lags behind the schedule. Musk said in a presentation in 2019 that he was aiming for regulatory approval by the end of 2020. He later said at a conference in late 2021 that he hopes to begin human trials this year.
Neuralink repeatedly missed internal deadlines to get FDA approval to begin human trials, according to current and former employees.
Reuters reported in August that Musk approached rival Synchron earlier this year about a potential investment after Neuralink employees expressed frustration with slow progress.
In July, Synchron achieved a milestone by implanting its device in a US patient for the first time. It received US regulatory approval for human trials in 2021 and has completed studies on four people in Australia.
Reporting by Rachael Levy in Washington; Additional reporting by Ross Jane; Edited by Miyoung Kim and Muralikumar Anantharaman
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