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Report: Company Plans Major Human Testing of Brain-computer Device

Signage is seen at the Synchron offices in Brooklyn, New York City, U.S., April 4, 2024. (REUTERS/Andrew Kelly)
Signage is seen at the Synchron offices in Brooklyn, New York City, U.S., April 4, 2024. (REUTERS/Andrew Kelly)
Report: Company Plans Major Human Testing of Brain-Computer Device
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A U.S.-based developer of a brain-computer implant is reportedly preparing to carry out major testing of its device on humans.

The company is called Synchron. The Reuters news agency reported that Synchron recently launched on online system that permits patients to express interest in taking part in a large research study, or trial.

The company has also been in contact with more than 100 research centers that want to support the study, Synchron chief executive Thomas Oxley told Reuters.

Synchron’s device is known as a brain-computer interface. It is designed to treat individuals who experience paralysis caused by injury or disease. The device contains a small computer built to electronically communicate with the brain.

The first tests aim to use the brain-computer interface to process brain signals to help paralyzed patients type on a computer.

Synchron’s interface is similar to a device currently being tested by its American competitor, Neuralink. One difference is that Neuralink’s device is designed to be implanted inside the skull.

Synchron’s device uses a less invasive implant method known as endovascular. The company says this involves a vein carrying the device into a part of the brain known as the motor cortex. This part of the brain produces signals to direct body movements.

Synchron is farther along in the development of its implant than Neuralink, Reuters reports. Neuralink’s progress has mainly been announced by company chief Elon Musk on the X social media service that he owns. So far, Neuralink has said its device has been implanted in one paralyzed patient.

Testing implants in patients with brain damage can be difficult. This is because an individual's brain may be so severely damaged that there is not effective signaling to record.

Synchron’s Oxley said the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) asked his company to test stroke patients using a non-invasive method to see if they would be good implant candidates.

In 2020, Synchron said experiments involving paralyzed patients in Australia found the individuals could use its device to type letters into a computer at a higher rate than in earlier studies.

Synchron received U.S. approval in July 2021 to carry out early testing. It has implanted its devices in six patients so far. Tests involving four patients in Australia showed no serious side effects, the company has reported.

Synchron says it will be examining data from its current testing to prepare for the larger study. The company must still receive FDA approval to move forward with the new study.

Several U.S. hospitals have cooperated with Synchron on its current testing program. These include Mount Sinai in New York, the University at Buffalo Neurosurgery and the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC). The company has said it hopes to involve these same medical centers in the larger trial.

Dr. David Lacomis is chief of UPMC's Neuromuscular Division. He told Reuters his team is still involved in the current testing program and said “the study is going well.”

The Department of Neurosurgery in the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at the University at Buffalo has two patients in the current test program.

The head of that effort is department chief Dr. Elad Levy. He told Reuters, “the first and only stroke patient” is taking part in the study. Levy said he feels that is important because this is a large population that might see improvements from Synchron’s device.

He added that he was hopeful and excited about the new research and future deployment of the technology.

I’m Bryan Lynn.

Reuters reported this story. Bryan Lynn adapted the report for VOA Learning English.


Words in This Story

implant – n. a device placed inside the body in a medical operation

paralysis – n. being unable to move all of part of your body because of injury or disease

type – v. to write something using a keyboard

skull – n. the structure of bones that form the head and face of a person or animal

invasive – adj. done by cutting into or putting something into the body

vein – n. a tube that carries blood to the heart from other parts of the body

stroke – n. a sudden change in the blood supply to a part of the brain that sometimes causes a loss of movement in the body

optimistic – adj. hoping or believing that good things will happen in the future