First commercial brain-computer interface starts human trials

The first clinical trials testing a human brain-computer interface will soon take place in the United States

The company developing the interface, Synchron Inc., is a competitor of Neuralink Corp.

Bloomberg reported that the company’s first feasibility study to determine if the product is even practical is being funded by the National Institutes of Health. The study is meant to determine how the device can be safely integrated into the human brain. If all goes as planned, the clinical trial will be able to assess how disabled or paralyzed people can control digital devices hands-free.

This trial represents an important milestone as it will be the first clinical trial conducted by a startup working on brain-machine interfaces; if the clinical trial is successful, Synchron will begin selling the product.

Synchron’s clinic puts the company ahead of Musk’s Neuralink. Last year, Neuralink raised $205 million, while Synchron raised $70 million.

Brain-computer interfaces are believed to have the ability to allow millions of people with disabilities to more easily communicate with other people and engage in modern life. According to data collected by the CDC, paralysis affects more than five million people in the United States. Brain-computer interface technologies could theoretically alleviate some of the difficulties in these people’s lives.

Synchron’s device, once implanted, travels to the brain through the body’s vasculature, while Musk’s Neuralink is implanted directly into the recipient’s skull. Once Synchron’s device reaches the brain, parts of the device translate brain activity into signals that enable text messaging, email, online shopping, or other miscellaneous activities using from a paired external device.

In the past, brain-computer interfaces have received regulatory approval to treat patients on a temporary basis, but if Synchron’s trial is successful, the company would gain US Food and Drug Administration approval to long-term use. If the clinical trial is successful, this technology will take a giant step towards commercial availability.

The Synchron study will involve six American patients in New York and Pittsburgh. The first patient was enrolled this week at Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York. The patient’s identity and demographic information is kept confidential.

If this clinical trial is successful, the next step for Snychron will be to conduct a larger trial to test efficacy.