For those not in the know, Musk’s Neuralink company has been trying to put chips into the brains of apes so that they can play pong without moving their hands. After initial successes, at least with the regulators, Musk’s company found itself with a high mortality rate amongst his test subjects.
Undaunted by the fact that the deaths will happen to other people, Musk has apparently asked one of the largest and best-regarded U.S. neurosurgery centres to be a partner for future clinical trials involving humans.
Neuralink is in discussions with Phoenix, Arizona-based Barrow Neurological Institute.
Like many of Musk’s projects Neuralink has been claiming human trials are just around the corner for years. However, the company hasn’t yet gotten U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval to put its brain computer interface (BCI) devices inside human skulls.
Musk publicly claimed human tests would happen in 2019, but the FDA denied the company’s first bid for human trial approval last year.
But since the tests are being conducted in the US, the high body count and lack of watchdog approval do not mean that Musk’s plans are dead in the water – particularly if a high profile institutional partner signs up.
A director from the Arizona treatment and research centre has confirmed that Barrow would be well-equipped to conduct brain implant research along the lines of what Neuralink hopes to do.
But before that can happen Neuralink has to avoid two federal probes which might be harder to make go away. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Office of the Inspector General concerns about the company’s animal testing practices. It follows allegations from an animal rights’ advocacy group that Neuralink violated animal welfare laws and caused needless torment to its mammalian test subjects. Neuralink has denied those allegations of animal torture.
Then there is an investigation by the Department of Transportation over allegations related to improper transport of hazardous biological materials.
Another issue for Neuralink is that its technology is rather elderly. In fact, its recent “show and tell” event duplicated a feat first accomplished almost 20 years ago. Other companies have come up with less invasive ways of getting apes to play pong.
Synchron said it implanted its first BCI device in a human in July 2022, after receiving FDA approval the year before.