On January 29, 2024, as Elon Musk announced the successful completion of Neuralink’s first human implant, a collaborative effort between China’s Tsinghua University Medical School and Capital Medical University Xuanwu Hospital, announced significant milestones in the field as well.
Neuralink revealed the successful completion of its first human implant, marking a crucial step in its mission to create a high-bandwidth, safe, and biocompatible device that can read and write neural signals. The company’s approach involves a robot-assisted surgical procedure to implant a device into the brain. The device, which contains a large number of flexible electrode threads, records neural activity and wirelessly transmits brain signals to an application that decodes these signals, allowing users to control external devices via Bluetooth.
Meanwhile, the Chinese research team reported progress in their clinical trial of a wireless minimally invasive brain-computer interface, known as NEO. The NEO interface is designed to be implanted within the skull, with electrodes positioned on the dura mater, a protective membrane between the skull and the brain. This method is intended to minimize potential harm to brain cells. The first patient to receive this interface, a quadriplegic due to a cervical spinal cord injury, demonstrated improved motor control and sensory response following three months of rehabilitation training. The team also reported a successful implantation in a second hospital, indicating the reproducibility of the procedure.
The NEO interface differs from Neuralink’s in several ways. It places electrodes outside the cerebral dura mater and utilizes near-field wireless technology for power supply and signal transmission. This design eliminates the need for an internal battery and reduces the risk of infection associated with percutaneous cables.
The field of brain-computer interfaces is gaining recognition as a key future industry, particularly in China, where over 30 experimental groups are conducting research nationwide. Market projections suggest substantial growth in both the global and Chinese markets for brain-computer interfaces in the coming years, driven by potential applications in healthcare, neuroprosthetics, and human augmentation. This progress underscores the importance of continued research and standardization efforts in advancing the technology and ensuring its safety and efficacy.