Elon Musk's brain-implant company given permission to begin human trials

Elon Musk has championed Neuralink for years. Credit: AP

Elon Musk's brain-implant company Neuralink has been given the green light to begin human trials by US authorities.

Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the move on Friday after Neuralink struggled several times to get permission to begin research on humans.

Neuralink said in a Tweet the FDA approval "represents an important first step that will one day allow our technology to help many people."

It did not elaborate on the aims of the study, saying only that it was not recruiting yet and more details would be available soon.

Musk has spoken about his vision of brain implants that could cure a range of conditions including obesity, autism, depression, and schizophrenia as well as enabling web browsing and telepathy.

He made headlines late last year when he said he was so confident in the devices' safety that he would be willing to implant them in his children.

Several other companies are also working on technology to assist and enhance brain function.

On Wednesday, Swiss researchers revealed a "wireless digital bridge" that allowed a paralysed man to walk.

The spine interface attached to the man's head and back enabled him to regain some of his lost brain function.

He was also able to walk with crutches when not using the device.

On at least four occasions since 2019, Musk predicted Neuralink would begin human trials.

But the company only sought FDA approval in early 2022 and the agency rejected the application, former employees told Reuters in March.

Swiss researches recently revealed a device attached to the brain that allowed a paralysed man to walk. Credit: PA

The FDA had pointed out several concerns to Neuralink that needed to be addressed before sanctioning human trials, according to the employees.

Major issues involved the lithium battery of the device, the possibility of the implant's wires migrating within the brain, and the challenge of safely extracting the device without damaging brain tissue.

Neuralink, founded in 2016, has been the subject of several investigations by US authorities.

In May, US lawmakers urged regulators to investigate whether the makeup of a panel overseeing animal testing at Neuralink contributed to botched and rushed experiments.

The Department of Transportation is separately probing whether Neuralink illegally transported dangerous pathogens on chips removed from monkey brains without proper containment measures.

Neuralink is also under investigation by the US Department of Agriculture's Office of Inspector General for potential animal-welfare violations.

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