Elon Musk's Neuralink allowed to implant a chip in the human brain: previous tests killed more than 1500 animals
The brain implant company Neuralink Corp, co-founded by Elon Musk in 2016, has announced that it has received official permission from the US authorities to conduct human tests. As promised, such chips will in the future allow the blind to regain their sight or people with disabilities to get back on their feet. But so far, there have been only relatively minor successes and the deaths of more than 1,500 animals who participated in the experiments.
Permission to implant a microchip into a living human brain has allegedly been granted by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), but the regulator itself has not yet made any statements.
The billionaire's company claims that it does not intend to immediately announce the recruitment of participants for the first tests. Therefore, it is not yet known when human testing of microchips can start. Neuralink promised to provide more information about the tests in the future.
Previously, Musk has repeatedly applied to the FDA for permission, but all requests ended in nothing. The last time he was denied was in March 2023.
What kind of microchips does Neuralink produce?
Neuralink intends to implant specially designed microchips that will help people with diseases such as paralysis or blindness. These microchips will enable people with disabilities to use computers and mobile technologies.
The technology works like this: the chips receive neural signals from the brain and interpret them, and then transmit them to another device via Bluetooth. It will look as if the chip carrier is controlling electronic devices using only the power of thought.
Neuralink also believes that their device will eventually be able to restore neural activity inside the body, allowing people with spinal cord injuries to move their limbs. The company also aims to cure neurological diseases such as Alzheimer's and dementia.
The company has evidence that the chips really work. In particular, Neuralink has published several videos of monkeys controlling a computer with their minds. In one of them, the experimental monkey played ping-pong with its mind.
Neuralink initially planned to implant the first microchip in the human brain in 2020. Later, the date was shifted to 2022, but when the company received another rejection from the FDA in December, human experiments were postponed again. However, Musk believed that his company would start human experiments by June 2023.
At the same time, data on animal rights violations during the tests were leaked online.
Scandal of animal deaths
According to documents previously obtained by Reuters and sources familiar with the investigation and the company's activities, Neuralink is facing a federal investigation into potential animal welfare violations.
Employees of the company claimed to have complained that the testing was rushed and caused unnecessary suffering and death to many animals. It was reported that about 1,500 animals were killed as a result of the experiments, including more than 280 sheep, pigs and monkeys. However, the exact number of animals killed is not known, as the company does not keep such records. Mice and rats, which were also used for experiments, were not included in the list of dead.
At the same time, the number of deaths alone does not mean anything, as animal testing is carried out by many companies and very often, after the experiments, the animals are put to sleep so that they can be studied posthumously for scientific purposes.
However, current and former Neuralink employees claimed that the number of animal deaths was higher than necessary. According to them, one of the reasons for such results is Musk's demands to speed up the research.
Reuters found out during its own investigation that the company often made human errors due to haste, which led to the fact that experiments had to be conducted on new animals.
One of the company's employees also referred to the operations carried out on animals as "hackwork" in his correspondence.
Musk also put pressure on employees even in business correspondence. In early 2023, he sent employees news of Swiss researchers who had developed an electrical implant that helped a paralysed man walk again.
"We can allow people to use their arms and walk again in everyday life!" - Musk wrote to employees at 6:37 am. Ten minutes later, he wrote that the company was not moving fast enough and "it's driving me crazy!"
He also asked employees to imagine that there were bombs tied to their heads and that they needed to work faster. Musk also threatened to cause a "market crash" for Neuralink if the company did not achieve great success.
Not the first to do so
Interestingly, Neuralink announced the FDA approval just the day after scientists in Switzerland reported that they had succeeded in putting 40-year-old Dutchman Geert-Jan Oskam, who was paralysed after an accident 28 years ago, back on his feet thanks to a brain implant.
It was reported that the man was implanted with electronic implants in his brain that wirelessly transmit his thoughts to his legs and feet through a second implant on his spine.
The system is reportedly still at an experimental stage, but it is already being called "very encouraging".
"I feel like a toddler learning to walk again. It's been a long journey, but now I can stand up and have a beer with my friend. It's a pleasure that many people don't realise," Oskam told the BBC.
The man is now also able to stand and climb stairs on his own.
Neurosurgeon and professor Jocelyne Bloch from the University of Lausanne, who performed the chip implantation, stressed that the system is still at the stage of basic research, and it will take many years before it becomes available to paralysed patients.
Earlier, OBOZREVATEL also reported that American scientists have developed special implants that are implanted in the brain and can relieve a person of depression.
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