Development of brain implants
The coin-sized Neuralink implant will be attached to electrodes, inserted deep into the brain and extended with filaments. Cerebral implants, bluetooth-connected technology, aim to treat motor disorders and neurodegenerative diseases, but also to give birth to an “augmented” person who can control digital objects and have extensive memory.
After Elon Musk, the owner of the space company Space X, aims for the infinitely large with the development of a program to conquer the planet Mars, he attacks our neurons in the infinitely small. The Neuralink brain implant project is nothing more than an attempt to repair the brain from the inside out.
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so “Autism, memory loss or schizophrenia” It can be treated by Neuralink, according to its director, who claims that it will be possible in the future. “store our memories, review them or install them in a robot body” ! The scientific community, in particular François Berger, director of the BrainTech laboratory at the University of Grenoble Alpes in Inserm, is protesting a stance that does not correspond at all: “We are promised the planet Mars in the brain! Elon Musk claims he can cure everything, it’s scientific overselling.
What exactly is Neuralink? A 23 mm diameter device implanted directly into the patient’s skull by a robot. Consisting of tiny electrodes, it can generate electrical activity to stimulate our neurons, or capture electrons emitted by the brain and observe their activity. In addition, it will be linked to the latest generation algorithm that will optimize its performance. Thus, in order to restore the mobility of the paralyzed arm, it would be enough to stimulate the neural zones associated with its movement…
Likewise, the activation of neuronal areas of memory can be stimulated to prevent their degradation during degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s. No wonder so far. “There is nothing new in what Mr. Musk said.”, François Berger analyzes. Because neuropathologists in this field did not expect it to try to penetrate our nerve center.
Thus, since its creation in 2004 in the US state of the same name, the Utah Array implant, developed by Richard Normann’s team, allowed a quadriplegic patient to remotely control a computer mouse using electrodes attached to it. his skull. Recently, neurologist Grégoire Courtin’s team at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne in Switzerland succeeded in injecting paralyzed patients with spinal cord stimulation thanks to an implant placed under the vertebrae.
THE ROBOT SURGEON
However, Neuralink innovates in several respects compared to its competitors. “Elon Musk has grasped the current lockdowns well”, recognizes François Berger, namely the toxicity of electrodes and their lack of flexibility. Neuralink is developing its own robotic surgeon to facilitate its installation, i.e. insertion into the brain. The latter, even for Inserm researcher Gaëlle Offranc Piret of the BrainTech laboratory, would allow for a standard pose to be achieved and would therefore be less risky in principle. “Now nothing passes a human surgeon”. In effect, “As two faces are different, so are two brains, notifies the expert, but the surgeon will have more adaptability” .
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Another big problem with brain implants lies in a vital property of our brain: its malleability. An electrode that is too stiff can cause brain damage, so the electrode used by Neuralink is designed to be flexible. “The idea is to get as much similarity as possible with brain biology.”, Gaëlle Offranc Piret explains. However, he is concerned that Neuralink has not yet published any of his work in reputable journals. Nature Where Science . “Elon Musk wanted to go very fast” deplores Grenoble, which promotes progress in regulations.
After several animal demonstrations on sows and even primates – with major communication breakthroughs, when a monkey was filmed playing Pong thanks to an implant – Neuralink now wants to start clinical trials on humans. . But until now, these tests have been rejected by regulatory agencies. “It’s either a sign that they’re not progressing in toxicity, or there are deeper issues that they’re not talking about.” Gaëlle Offranc Piret summarizes.
© FERRARI / STARFACE – NEURALINK/AFP
“The idea is to get as much similarity as possible with the biology of the brain.”
BRAIN IMPLANTS: HUMAN TRIALS
Needless to say, controversy is already piling up in California society. From the beginning, his over-the-top communication strategy irritated researchers. “We don’t put on a show with pigs…”, sighs an Inserm researcher in reaction to a live presentation of the device. To make matters worse, suspicions of abuse of the primates were raised, and eight of them had to be euthanized after receiving the implant – deaths acknowledged by Neuralink, but which disputes the allegations of abuse. “It could discredit neuroscience in general.”François takes Berger away.
The research director is mainly concerned about legislative change. Because in the face of blockades, Elon Musk has the power to change laws with big lobbying attacks on American policies. “Ideally, the same should be done with cloning”, Francois Berger hopes, that is, to impose strict rules: human cloning is prohibited in France and punishable by seven years in prison. Neuralink is also concerned about the legal aspect: could we read our brains or broadcast advertisements in the brain thanks to these implants?
“We are promised the planet Mars in the brain! Elon Musk promises to cure everything, it’s more selling than science
For now, that dream (or nightmare) remains elusive. However, before proceeding with human trials, “must happen within five years”, predicts Francois Berger. Gaëlle Offranc Piret develops a non-invasive injection process that can dissolve naturally after entering the brain. This limits the risk of toxicity. “I move slower than Elon Musk” The Inserm researcher laughs. “
He is obliged to make promises in order to receive funding, he admits, however This is not our case in public research, especially since it does not need to be valid for the scientific community. ” The development of brain implants, like the brain, definitely seems to be a sensitive topic.