Thomas Oxley is the founder and CEO of Synchron, which develops brain-computer interface technology. These devices pick up signals from the brain and translate them into commands. They can even perform movements such as moving a robotic arm or moving a cursor on a screen. All you need to do is think about it and then say, “move,” and we’ll take care of translating your thoughts into computer commands.
On July 6, the first patient in the United States was implanted with a Synchron device at a New York hospital. The male patient was suffering from ALS and lost the ability to speak and move as a result. While he didn’t want to publicize the device before experiencing its benefits and cons, he did commit to remaining anonymous so as not to attract any unnecessary attention from people outside of his circles.
Patients are able to interact with the device, instead of only being transferred to a nurse or a doctor. They can move the cursor on the screen and use it as they please. One feature allows patients to send an email or shop online with their healthcare team.
Despite the rise of digital technologies, it’s still difficult for people with disabilities to access them.
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Despite the FDA’s approval of only one neural interface, Synchron, the industry is rapidly evolving. Gaunt Labs is leading this healthcare revolution with its products that better familiarize our lives with digital experiences – helping us manage pain by sending reminders or monitoring our well-being in immersive workspaces.
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The Synchron device, which was developed by the Brain Research Laboratory at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in collaboration with Boston Children’s Hospital, is still in development but its capabilities are impressive. The innovations of the device lie in the fact that it doesn’t require open-brain surgery, making it a safe and noninvasive procedure.
This Stentrode device resembles a net and is about the size of an AAA battery. It places it endovascularly, which means it’s placed in a blood vessel in your motor cortex so that it can control movement. To do this, you need to insert a catheter through the neck and bring the portable device from there to your brain then remove the catheter.
We’ve taken the basic approach of each process and modified it for surgical inversion purposes, which means that each process is shortened and can be completed in a shorter time.
Synchron’s phenomenal progress has been a benefit to the neuromodulation industry as a whole. In August 2020, it received FDA clearance to do clinical trials of its fixed neural interface, making it the first company to do so. It took the company five years and an “enormous amount of work” to get there.
A recent Australian study of four patients with the device found that long-term use was safe.
Synchron is excited to test the safety and feasibility of this procedure to make sure we’re ready for commercial preparations. In order for us to get there, we need more information about our device’s ability to be implanted in any patient. We plan to implant it into 15 patients across the country for a total time of 2 years.
If a study reveals that the product has benefits and is disease-specific, Synchron will need to demonstrate that it significantly improves patients’ lives. This includes consultations with potential users and current ones as well as visits to their homes.
This if the next phase in a scientific breakthrough for this company. In this phase, the company will apply for FDA approval and try to enter the state’s Medicare health insurance program. Enrolling in Medicare is a key step in making the device as affordable as possible for as many people as possible.
There are many ethical, legal, and social risks to consider when using brain-computer interfaces and neural data. When integrating technology into the hands of more people, there are new questions that need to be addressed. Issues such as “how long should this data be stored”, “what can the neural data be used for aside from the device?” and “who owns the data?” will have to be addressed before we’re able to fully embrace devices like these.
As we move towards the future, concerns about data privacy are becoming more of a reality. By holding your data on a private corporation’s cloud server or in an AI’s centralized memory, you’re essentially vulnerable to fines and jail time. Countless articles have been written about the possibility of taking credit for others’ ideas without being held accountable for them. It’s so important that you take what you read with a grain of salt.
There are other questions to consider as well. What happens if the company doesn’t have enough money and goes bankrupt? Will patients still be able to keep their devices post-sale? If they want to remove the device, will the startup pay for it?