Neural Implants is a futuristic and very effective technology. They allow the power of thought to communicate through a computer or control a robotic arm. However, such devices will not soon hit the consumer market. Startups position their developments as medical devices and rely on a narrower audience. Usually, that is people with specific diseases. We talk about projects that have already managed to enlist the support of investors.
The idea of installing implants in the brain can hardly be called new. Films such as The Cage of Happiness (1972) and Johnny Mnemonic (1995) explored what a world full of cyborgs would be like. Scientists have spent decades figuring out how to install electronics in the human body safely. They have already demonstrated that brain implants can be used to control robotic arms and communicate via a computer. Imagine joining Vave login by thinking about it. Sounds amazing!
But the technology is still not widespread. Today, less than 40 people are reported to have received BCIs. That is brain-computer interfaces, brain-computer interfaces. It connects their minds to machines. Available implants are almost entirely experimental. Moreover, they are generally not sold.
In addition, there are many concerns associated with them. You can find the potential risk of infection or issues related to cybersecurity and privacy. A recent poll shows that the general public has not appreciated the idea of using neuro implants to improve cognitive abilities.
But this may soon change, thanks to a new generation of companies seeking to mass-produce them. Startups like Elon Musk’s Precision Neuroscience, Synchron, and Neuralink are developing technology to help people with quadriplegia, brain damage, and stroke. They aim to compete in the lucrative medical device industry. Also, they want to get insurance companies to cover the cost of their products for patients.
Venture capital firms spend millions of dollars hoping that this calculation will turn out to be correct. Last month, Precision raised $41 million in a Series B funding round led by Forepont Capital Partners, bringing the total investment to $53 million.
Investors are betting that Precision’s technology is a ribbon-shaped microelectrode. It reads electrical signals from above the brain. It could eventually help several million people in the US with various forms of motor paralysis. But development is still in its early stages.
The company has tested the prototype in pigs. It has yet to submit its first application to the FDA (US Food and Drug Administration) and test the technology in humans. The company hopes to meet both goals in 2023. The aim is not the only project working in this area.
Startup Synchron is developing a stent-like device that is inserted through the brain’s blood vessels. It raised $75 million late last year and is backed by both Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos.
The company has raised $145 million since its founding in 2012 and last month published a study on the security of its device. There’s also Neuralink, which raised over $200 million two years ago. The company is infamous for its colorful live demonstrations of chipped pigs and monkeys and hopes to implant its device in humans for the first time this year.
It is worth noting that scientists have already been able to replicate some of the achievements of Neuralink. The USDA is investigating possible violations of the Animal Welfare Act during the tests. These advances are part of a broader trend toward increased investment in neuroscience.
Last fall, Cajal Neuroscience, a drug development startup specializing in neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, raised $96 million. And a company called Alto Neuroscience has received $100 million since 2019 for its technology, which involves using AI to develop and adapt psychiatric drugs.
Carol Su, the partner at ARCH Venture Partners, which has funded several projects in this direction, notes that the trend has intensified in the last 3-5 years.
Some Might Not Like It
But there are also concerns. The research process and the race to get a brain implant device to market as quickly as possible have created ethical issues. While medical research often includes animal testing, Neuralink has been accused of rushing through its trials. It is killing more animals than necessary.
Human trials will create other problems and can literally be a headache for patients. Some devices can fail, leaving people with outdated technology in their brains and having to make the difficult decision of whether or not to try to extract it.
Most neuro implants are based on the same idea. Brain cells generate electrical signals. They may be weakly correlated with a particular thought or action, such as hand movement. The implants pick up these signals and then communicate with another device, such as a robotic limb, or send new electrical signals back to the brain.
However, players are trying to differentiate their developments so as not to compete for future customers. For example, startup Paradromics is betting on using materials that will help the device last longer in the brain while increasing the number of electrodes or channels it can support. The company is targeting a very limited audience. It has 150,000 US residents. They estimate they may need an assistive device to speak.
Synchron’s technology, meanwhile, is designed to be administered through the jugular vein. So it doesn’t require open brain surgery, which could make things easier for doctors.
Similarly, the Precision Neuroscience implant is designed to sit on top of, but not directly into, the brain. It is expected that this will be appreciated by those who may not want to have an invasive and potentially more risky implant. While these developments can be extremely useful, they will inevitably be extremely expensive.
Matt Angle, CEO and founder of Paradromics, estimated that his company’s implant would require an insurance claim of around $150,000. And that’s just for the device itself. Any necessary operation to install or remove it will incur additional costs.
Another Way Of Development
There is another approach. Companies design their devices to run the software. It will need to be updated from time to time, and most likely for a fee. Engle notes that the ability to move to a software-as-a-service model would be beneficial for the entire industry.
Synchron has already had some preliminary discussions with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, and leaders noted that most of their target patient populations are older and more likely to benefit from Medicare.
Of course, all this is provided that these companies manage to get FDA approval. None of them currently have a commercially available product, and executives say it could be years before one of their devices is tested for safety and effectiveness. At the same time, the brain implant business is still risky.