This Brain Computer Uses Your Jugular Like a USB Cable
A new way to insert neural implants doesn’t require brain surgery
Devices that would allow people to connect their brains directly to computers are getting a lot of attention from Silicon Valley lately. Last week, Facebook acquired the startup CTRL-Labs, which is developing a mind-reading wristband, and in July, Elon Musk’s Neuralink unveiled details about its brain chip, which the company eventually wants to embed in the brain through a quick procedure it compares to LASIK.
But Facebook and Neuralink’s plans to merge people with their devices will likely take several years to materialize. Wearables like what CTRL-Labs is developing rely on weaker neural signals and thus have shown less precise control. Brain implants promise more accuracy, but require highly specialized brain surgery, and pose a risk to patients.
Neurotechnology startup Synchron, based in Silicon Valley and Melbourne, Australia, may have found a way around these problems. The brain-computer interface company is testing whether a matchstick-sized neural implant that doesn’t require open brain surgery could allow paralyzed people the ability to control computers using only their thoughts.
“It conforms to the curvature of the blood vessel that we’re putting it into.”
In a clinical trial sponsored by Synchron, doctors in Australia have implanted the stent-like device for the first time in a person, a patient who is severely paralyzed from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig’s disease, and can’t move. Dubbed the Stentrode, the device is delivered to the brain using a catheter that is snaked through the jugular vein in the neck. The device is meant to travel all the way to the motor cortex, the “control center” of the brain that is responsible for controlling movement, but stays inside the blood vessel. The procedure takes about an hour, and only requires a small incision into the neck.
“Once we have deployed the Stentrode, it self-expands inside the blood vessel,” says Nicholas Opie, chief technology officer and co-founder of Synchron. “It conforms to the curvature of the blood vessel that we’re putting it into.” The idea is similar to…