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Neuralink: A ground-breaking biomedical innovation!

Being from the millennial generation, we grew up watching and reading about theories that talk on the possibility of AI taking over human society. Away from all those metaphorical theories, a visionary entrepreneur and a genius technocrat has been working towards bringing all those “Black Mirror” episodes into reality. Yes, we are talking about none other than Elon Musk!

If you follow technology or even the world news in general, then you might have surely come across some or other ground breaking innovations every couple of years from one of the ventures of Elon Musk. Elon Musk is arguably one of the greatest living innovators. This real life Tony Stark has achieved success with nearly everything he has touched and has been doing so ever since he sold his first piece of software at the age of 12. From the computer game, Blaster, to PayPal, to Tesla, to SpaceX and now Neuralink.

At DigiQure, being a health-tech firm, any technological innovation that relates to healthcare excites us. Thus, we were all caught up since the announcement of Neuralink by the man himself. Here’s a deep dive into our take on Elon Musk’s Neuralink. In a Progress Update Conference of Neuralink held on August 28, 2020, Musk made an analogy calling the device to essentially be a FitBit in your skull with tiny wires.

What is Neuralink? How does it work?

The new Brain Computer Interface (BCI) device has been named as “the link” and is designed to first treat patients with cervical fractures and neurological disorders, allowing them to restore somewhat normal function.

The Basics

Our brains are made of billions of neurons (86 billion to be precise), cells with long synapses. In the nervous system, a synapse is a structure that permits a nerve cell to pass an electrical or chemical signal to another neuron and in turn to the target effector cell. Neurotransmitters all serve a different purpose in the brain and body. This neural activity is responsible for various functions such as speech or movement. For e.g. when you move your arm, that action started as an electrical signal or an electrical spike up inside your brain.

How Neuralink plans to read those electrical signals?

The brain cells are in a structure that is synonymous with electrical wiring. Neuralink says these signals can be recorded by a chip and rather than just neurons sending signals, these signals can be replicated and sent by this chip. Recording many neurons and their activity would potentially allow Neuralink to decode the information represented by those cells.

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The Device

Musk unveiled the implantable brain chip, this chip is called LINK V-0.9. This Brain Computer Interface is designed to be implanted directly into your brain with the help of a surgical robot. The company claims the surgical process would be less than an hour and one can leave the hospital the very same day of the surgery, that can be done without needing any general anesthesia.

In the words of Musk, “You remove a coin-sized piece of your skull and then you can just walk around, right after it.

More on the specs, it has 24hour battery-life, connects to your phone wirelessly in 5-10m proximity and can be charged through induction charging overnight.

Connection to the anatomy of your brain:

The chip connects to your brain through many micron-scale threads or electrodes that are supposedly 1/20th of the width of a human hair and makes direct connections with your neural cells to receive and send electrical signals. Preeminently, as per Neuralinks claims, these electrodes won’t damage your brain. The robot apparently images the brain and makes sure to avoid any arteries or veins in your brain, so the electrodes are inserted with no noticeable damage.

The Cost:

The whole experience will start with being on the expensive side, while eventually scale down to as inexpensive as just a couple of thousand dollars(approx under 2lacs INR). Beyond the pioneering technology itself, Neuralink has a compelling business plan. Musk wants this to be as expensive as Laser Eye Surgery.

Progress so far:

Elon Musk did a demo and brought out three live pigs. One without a chip, one that had the chip and had it removed without any damage and the third one that had the implant for 2 months. He demonstrated a live reading from this third pig’s neural activity and the minds were blown!

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We also saw the chip predicting the movement based on previously recorded neural activity on similar movements. The electrodes were also seen firing and stimulating neurons and lighting up different regions in the brain.

Game-changing applications:

All this opens the door to some really game-changing applications of ‘The Link’. The company's head neurosurgeon, Matthew MacDougall said that the first trails of the Link would be aimed at treating things like paraplegia. The company said it received FDA’s breakthrough device designation in July. Although it's not the same as FDA’s approval, it surely helps Neuralink to fast track its process to bring the device out in the field.

There were also mentions of the device’s ability to control your iOS devices, instructing devices to type and perform tasks just by thinking about it.

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Apart from this, there were talks of curing blindness by implanting the Link in the visual cortex. Treating mental health conditions like depression, anxiety and addiction, control of heads-up display so you can walk around like a Cyborg. Amongst the other things there were talks of Telepathy, Replaying or Editing your memory in case of trauma, Superhuman vision and the ability to see ultraviolet light. Oh! and most fanatical of all ‘connecting your brain and uploading it to a robot’.

Ending Note:

In verdict, we would say we did not get an actual concrete idea of how all these claims would actually work and there weren’t any timelines given for when we would actually be able to see it. So while the Link could be true-blue ground breaking biomedical-engineering innovation for treating things like spinal injuries, we don’t expect it to bring Sci-Fi movies like gimmicks in real life. All and all it was downright spellbinding to see working of the brain in real-time!

Written by,


A Digital Healthcare Ecosystem

Disclaimer: Dr. Avantina Wellness Advisor is hosting the article on our website but the views expressed are solely of DigiQure as mentioned above.

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