In May, the Elon Musk-owned brain implant company Neuralink announced that it received FDA approval to begin human trials. On Tuesday, the company announced that an independent review board had cleared it to begin recruiting human test subjects for its brain implant for patients with paralysis.
According to a blog post from the California-based neurotechnology company, the main purpose of these human trials is to test whether its brain-computer interface (BCI) — called “the Link” — is safe and functional. The aim of Neuralink’s BCI and the company as a whole is to create implantable devices that’ll let users control things with their brains. And while it sounds super sci-fi, Neuralink is far from the only company developing brain interface devices.
“The initial goal of our BCI is to grant people the ability to control a computer cursor or keyboard using their thoughts alone,” the company said in its announcement.
While this may be an exciting development for some, Neuralink’s “first-in-human clinical trials” may represent a significant risk for its patients. The company and Musk have come under fire in the past for the way it treated lab animals — so much so that in February 2022, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine filed a complaint alleging Neuralink performed “invasive and deadly brain experiments.” By December of that same year, the company was under investigation by federal authorities for possible violations of animal welfare regulations, with documents alleging that since 2018 the company had killed approximately 1,500 animals, including rats, monkeys, pigs, and, mice.
Neuralink fought back against these very serious allegations claiming that the rhesus macaque monkeys under its care were “respected and honored” by the team. Musk even took to X (formerly known as Twitter) this past week to say that “no monkey has died as a result of a Neuralink implant.”
That statement directly contradicts the company already admitting to euthanizing several animals after they had developed infections and other side effects, but no one is expecting Musk to be the brightest one in the room. Whether or not Musk is trying to reframe the controversy regarding Neuralink’s animal testing doesn’t seem to matter at this moment as the company has already gotten the necessary approvals and is gearing up for a very crucial moment in its history.
The announcement left it unclear when these trials would begin, but did state that those who have “quadriplegia due to cervical spinal cord injury or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)” may qualify for the trial.