A brain implant startup backed by Bezos and Gates is testing mind-controlled computing on humans

A brain implant startup backed by Bezos and Gates is testing mind-controlled computing on humans

In a Brooklyn lab crammed with 3D printers and a makeshift pickleball court, employees at startup Synchron are working on technology that will change the lives of people with paralysis.

A synchronous switch is implanted through blood vessels to allow people with no or very limited physical mobility to control technology such as pointers and smart home devices with their thoughts. So far, the new technology has been used in three patients in the US and four in Australia.

“I’ve seen moments between a patient and a partner, or a patient and a spouse, where it’s incredibly joyful and empowering to regain the ability to be a little more independent than before,” said Synchron CEO Tom Oxley in an interview with CNBC. “It helps them engage in ways that we take for granted.”

Synchron was founded in 2012 and is part of the rapidly growing brain-computer interface or BCI industry. BCI is a system that deciphers brain signals and translates them into commands for external technologies. Perhaps the best-known name in the industry is Neuralink, thanks to the fame of founder Elon Musk, who is also the CEO of Tesla, SpaceX and Twitter.

But Musk isn’t the only tech billionaire betting on BCI’s eventual transition from radical science experiment to successful medical company. In December, Synchron announced a $75 million funding round, including funding from the investment firms of Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos.

In August 2020, the Food and Drug Administration granted Synchron Breakthrough Device designation, which is for medical devices that have the potential to provide better treatment for debilitating or life-threatening conditions. The following year, Synchron became the first company to receive FDA clearance for an investigational device to conduct BCI trials that can be permanently implanted in patients.

Synchron is enrolling patients in an early feasibility study to demonstrate that the technology is safe for use in humans. Six patients will be implanted with Synchron’s BCI during the study, and chief commercial officer Kurt Haggstrom said the company is currently halfway there.

The company does not yet have revenue, and a spokesperson said Synchron does not comment on how much the process will ultimately cost. While many competitors must implant their BCIs through open brain surgery, Synchron relies on a less invasive approach based on decades of endovascular techniques, the company said.

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