This 20-person biotech firm just beat Elon Musk’s Neuralink in getting the OK to test brain chip implants in humans with paralysis

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  • Synchron has beat rival Neuralink to human trials of its “implantable brain computer interface.”
  • The chip will be studied in six patients later this year as a possible aid for paralyzed people.
  • Elon Musk previously used Neuralink’s chip in a monkey, which then played video games with its mind.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

A competitor to Elon Musk’s Neuralink has edged out its rival in getting permission for a trial to implant chips in people.

The brain data transfer company Synchron has gotten the green light from the FDA to begin a human trial of its brain chip, according to a press release issued Wednesday.

The company will begin what is called an early feasibility study later this year at New York’s Mount Sinai Hospital. The study will examine the safety and efficacy of its flagship product, known as the Stentrode motor neuroprosthesis, in patients with severe paralysis. Synchron is hopeful that its device will allow the patients to use brain data to “control digital devices and achieve improvements in functional independence.” The study, called the COMMAND trial, will enroll six patients.

The FDA’s go-ahead “reflects years of safety testing performed in conjunction with FDA,” Synchron CEO Thomas Oxley said in the release.

“We have worked together to pave a pathway forward, towards the first commercial approval for a permanently implanted [brain-computer interface] for the treatment of paralysis,” he added in the release. “We are thrilled to finally be launching a U.S. clinical trial this year.”

The company says its device will allow patients to “wirelessly control external devices by thinking about moving their limbs,” which can help with activities ranging from texting and emailing to online shopping and accessing telemedicine.

“Synchron’s north star is to achieve whole-brain data transfer,” Oxley continued. “Our first target is the motor cortex for treatment of paralysis, which represents a large unmet need for millions of people across the world, and market opportunity of $US20B.”

The device gets to the brain via blood vessels in a minimally invasive procedure of around two hours that Synchron says is similar to the placement of stents in the heart. The company adds that the procedure can be done in “widely available angiography suites” and that there are no wires coming out of the body after the device is implanted.

Synchron also says there is no robotic assistance required for its procedure, unlike competitor Neuralink, which previously unveiled a robot designed to implant its chips.

Synchron currently has a separate clinical trial underway outside of the US, with four patients in Australia having already received the implant. The company published a study last year showing that the first two patients from this study were able to “control their devices to text and type through direct thought.”

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Synchron competitor Neuralink made headlines in April when it released a video showing its chip at work in a monkey. The clip showed a macaque named Pager playing video games with its mind six weeks after receiving the implant in its brain.

Neuralink founder Elon Musk tweeted at the time that the company’s first device would “enable someone with paralysis to use a smartphone with their mind faster than someone using thumbs.” In a subsequent tweet, Musk added that later versions of Neuralink’s products would succeed in “enabling, for example, paraplegics to walk again.”