Reuters reported today that six people familiar with the matter say Neuralink wants to tap the Barrow Neurological Institute as a partner. Phoenix, Arizona-based Barrow is, according to Reuters, one of the biggest neurosurgery centers in the U.S.
Neuralink’s search for a human trials partner comes on the heels of a turbulent couple of years.
During a Nov. 30, 2022 show and tell, Musk said that Neuralink would have the first in-human implant of its N1 device within the next six months. Reuters reported earlier this month that Neuralink sought FDA permission in early 2022 for human clinical trials of its BCI.
Those reports said the company received an application rejection from the agency, further clouding the timeline for one of many entries into the burgeoning BCI space. To add to Neuralink’s troubles, the company may face a U.S. Department of Agriculture Inspector General animal welfare investigation.
According to Reuters, Neuralink has no guarantees of working with the Barrow Institute. The outlet’s anonymous sources noted that the company held discussions with other centers over potential partnerships. Reuters said that, while the FDA and Neuralink did not comment on the matter, a representative from Barrow declined to comment on Neuralink but said the institute is well-positioned to conduct research in this space.
About Neuralink and the BCI space
Neuralink designed its N1 implant to recharge remotely and work with electrode-laced threads that go further into the brain. The company developed its R1 robot to implant the BCI system into the brain while avoiding vasculature.
Already about the size of a coin, N1 could be due for further size reductions. Musk said in November that the Neuralink team aims to improve and miniaturize the system.
Despite a big name in Musk behind the company, Neuralink has ground to make up against the stiff competition in the BCI space.
Blackrock Neurotech has been leading the way in the BCI space for multiple decades. The company develops the NeuroPort Array neural interfacing system. It’s been used in human BCIs since 2004. The system helps patients regain tactile function, movement of limbs and prosthetics and the ability to control digital devices. They can achieve this despite diagnoses of paralysis and other neurological disorders. Blackrock also has a next-gen BCI, unveiled in November 2022, called Neuralace. The system looks like a piece of lace and is thinner than an eyelash.
Meanwhile, Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos are among those investing in Synchron and its stent-like Stentrode. Stentrode is implanted through a minimally invasive endovascular procedure. Gates and Bezos contributed to a $75 million Series C round for Synchron at the end of 2022. Clinical study results for Stentrode announced in January demonstrated long-term safety results involving four people with severe bilateral upper-limb paralysis.