It sounds like science fiction – controlling a computer with your mind or a brain implant that increases your intelligence. Scientists have dreamed of connecting the human brain to computers for years. Now the company appears synchronous have taken a big step forward. A brain-computer interface (BCI) is currently undergoing clinical trials in human patients in the US.
For this, Synchron has developed a device called “Stentrode”. This is a flexible network of electrodes made of an alloy called Nitinol. The stentrode is inserted through the jugular vein into the “superior sagittal sinus” in the brain. The jugular veins return used blood from the brain to the heart for re-oxygenation. The Sinus Superior Sigittalis is a central venous blood line in the brain that runs in an arc at the top of the skull between the two hemispheres of the brain.
The advantage of this procedure: No surgery is needed to open the human skull and place electrodes or sensors in the brain. Stentrode can be introduced into the brain through the veins in a minimally invasive manner. The mesh adheres to the inner walls of the arteries – similar to a stent, to stabilize blood vessels for better blood flow. This way, blood flow is not disturbed and doctors can maneuver the device to any location in the brain. Stentrode can receive and transmit neuronal signals through the wall of blood vessels.
In combination with Synchron’s brain.io neuroprosthesis, the signals from the stentrode are wirelessly transmitted to a computer interface that allows control via a smartphone, tablet or computer, the researchers explain. The aim of the scientists: to simplify communication and thus improve the quality of life of patients with severe paralysis.
Those responsible for synchronous say the first patient trials in Australia are promising. To date, no side effects have occurred. After the implantation and training, the patients could have sent WhatsApp messages and made online purchases through brain control, it said.
After approval by the US health authorities, a stentrode was implanted in the brain of a first patient in the US on July 6, 2022. With a series of yes or no signals sent through that device, an app allows text entry and control from a mobile device or computer.
Synchron has been working on its Brain Computer Interface since 2012. The project started at the University of Melbourne in Australia and is supported by the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and the US Department of Defense. Synchron is now headquartered in New York. The project is funded by Khosla Ventures, among others, but the US and Australian governments are also involved.
Synchron isn’t the only company researching brain-computer interfaces. Also founded in 2016 by Tesla boss Elon Musk and eight other investors neural link has developed a kind of brain electrode. However, “The Link” must be surgically placed at a specific site in the brain. To do this as precisely as possible, Neuralink has developed an operating robot for this. Signals can be sent and received via The Link, for example to stimulate certain neuronal areas in the brain. The scientists involved hope that this will help with diseases such as Parkinson’s.
Facebook would also be working on BCIs. At the Spring 2017 F8 developers conference, Regina Dugan, head of Building 8’s research department, reported on a project to convert thoughts directly from the brain into words typed on a computer. Dugan previously worked for the US Department of Defense and Google. However, her involvement with Facebook was short-lived. In October 2017, Dugan left Facebook for an unknown destination. The BCI project should actually be continued, it was said at the time. But since then there is no further information about it. Facebook’s BCI faded into obscurity.