Scientists have created a brain implant that allows you to control a computer with the power of thought
The human cortex is made up of six cell layers, but at Precision Neuroscience, a team of scientists and engineers is working on a device that resembles a seventh. The edition told in more detail CNBC.
The device is called the Layer 7 Cortical Interface, and it's a brain implant that aims to help paralyzed patients control digital devices using only neural signals. This means that patients with severe degenerative diseases such as ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis) will regain the ability to communicate with loved ones, move cursors, type, and even access social media using their minds.
Layer 7 is an array of electrodes that looks like a piece of tape. It is thinner than a human hair, which helps it interact with the surface of the brain without damaging tissue.
Precision, founded in 2021, is one of many companies operating in the brain-computer interface (BCI) industry. BCI is a system that decodes brain signals and translates them into commands for external technology, and several companies have successfully built devices with this capability.
Precision was co-founded by Benjamin Rapoport, who was also the co-founder of Elon Musk's Neuralink, and Michael Mager. But while Neuralink's BCI is designed to be implanted directly into brain tissue, Precision relies on a surgical technique that is designed to be less invasive.
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To implant Layer 7, the surgeon makes a very thin incision in the skull and inserts the device like a letter in a mailbox. Mager, who is CEO of Precision, said the gap is less than a millimeter thick - so small that patients don't even need to shave their hair for the procedure.
“This is a big advantage over technologies that require, for example, trepanation of the skull, the removal of a large part of the skull, which is time-consuming and involves a lot of risk,” he said. “I have never met anyone who would like to drill a hole in their skull.”
The nature of the procedure allows Precision to easily increase the number of electrodes, which Mager says will eventually allow the device to be used for other neurological conditions in addition to paralysis.
The procedure is reversible if patients decide they no longer need the implant or need newer versions in the future.
“When you start thinking about extending this to more patients, the risk/benefit ratio of any procedure becomes a fundamental consideration for anyone considering medical technology,” Mager said. “If your system is either irreversible or potentially damaged, that means the risks you are taking to get an implant are much greater.”
Jacob Robinson, associate professor of electrical engineering at Rice University and founder of BCI company Motif Neurotech, said Precision is making impressive strides in minimally invasive BCI. He believes that not only patients should weigh the risks and benefits of the procedure, but also doctors and insurance companies.
Robinson said doctors have to weigh procedures quantitatively and based on existing literature, while insurance companies have to weigh their patients' costs, so less invasive surgery makes it easier for all three parties.
“This is a lower risk, which means there is an opportunity to treat more people,” he said.
But because the device isn't injected directly into brain tissue, Robinson said that brain signal recognition won't be as strong as some other BCI devices.
“You get a much better connection than when placed outside the skull, but not as strong as if the implant penetrated the brain tissue,” he explained.
Precision has successfully used its Layer 7 device to decode neural signals in animals, and Mager hopes to get FDA approval to test the technology in humans in the coming months.
The company recently announced $41 million in Series B funding, bringing the total investment to $53 million in less than two years.
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The funding will allow Precision to improve its product, hire more staff and expedite the FDA review process. According to Mager, Precision is rapidly working towards that goal.
“We don't want the next 15 years to be like the last 15 years, when technology helped only a few dozen people. So we are in a hurry,” he said.
According to Mager, 2023 will be a “turning year” for the neurotech industry, and there have been many upsides in the BCI space in terms of funding.
He understands the emerging skepticism about BCI and technology in general, as well as the real potential to make a difference for millions of people suffering from neurological diseases.
“Perhaps in many ways, the brain is the next frontier of modern medicine,” Mager said.
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