Nov 30 (Reuters) – Elon Musk said on Wednesday he expects a wireless brain chip developed by his company Neuralink to enter human clinical trials within six months, after the company previously missed timelines set by him.
The company is developing brain chip interfaces it says could help disabled patients move and communicate again, and Musk added on Wednesday that it will also focus on restoring vision.
Neuralink, based in the San Francisco Bay Area and Austin, Texas, has been conducting animal testing for the past several years to gain approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to begin human clinical trials.
“We want to be extremely careful and make sure it will work properly before we put a device in a human,” Musk said during a much-anticipated public update on the device.
Speaking to a crowd of select invitees during a nearly three-hour presentation at Neuralink’s headquarters, Musk emphasized the company’s speed at developing its device.
“Progress may seem excruciatingly slow at first, especially if it applies to humans, but we are doing everything we can to bring it to scale in parallel,” he added. “So in theory the progress should be exponential.”
The FDA said it cannot comment on the status or existence of potential product uses.
The first two human applications the Neuralink device is targeting are restoring vision and enabling movement of muscles in people who can’t, Musk said. “Even if someone has never had sight, like they were born blind, we believe we can still restore sight,” he said.
The event was originally scheduled for October 31, but Musk postponed it several days earlier without giving a reason.
Neuralink’s last public presentation, more than a year ago, involved a monkey with a brain chip playing a computer game by thinking alone. read more
Musk, who also runs electric vehicle maker Tesla (TSLA.O), rocket company SpaceX, and social media platform Twitter, is known for lofty goals like colonizing Mars and saving humanity. His ambitions for Neuralink, which he launched in 2016, are of the same magnitude.
He wants to develop a chip with which the brain can control complex electronic devices and eventually enable people with paralysis to regain their motor skills and to treat brain diseases such as Parkinson’s, dementia and Alzheimer’s. He also talks about fusing the brain with artificial intelligence.
However, Neuralink is behind schedule. Musk said in a 2019 presentation that he was aiming to get regulatory approval by the end of 2020. He then said at a conference in late 2021 that he hoped to begin human trials this year.
Neuralink has repeatedly missed internal deadlines to receive FDA approval to start human trials, current and former employees have said.
Musk approached competitor Synchron earlier this year about a potential investment after venting frustration to Neuralink employees about their slow progress, Reuters reported in August.
Synchron reached a major milestone in July by implanting its device in a patient in the United States for the first time. It received US regulatory approval for human trials in 2021 and has completed studies in four people in Australia.
Reporting by Rachael Levy in Washington, DC; Additional reporting by Ross Jane; Edited by Miyoung Kim and Muralikumar Anantharaman
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