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Elon Musk claims that his neuralink brain chip can ‘cure’ tinnitus in 5 years. But don’t hold your breath

The human brain is said to be the most complex biological structure ever to exist. Although science does not yet fully understand the brain, researchers are making progress in the expanding field of neuroscience.

Neuroscientists have made significant progress in mapping the complex functions of 85 billion or more neurons in the brain and the 100 trillion connections between them. (Given this celestial number, the Milky Way galaxy contains about 400 billion stars.)

Enter Neuralink, a Silicon Valley start-up supported by Elon Musk, who developed a neuroprosthetic device called the brain-computer interface. Among other things, Musk claims, this chip can cure tinnitus, a neurological condition that causes ringing in your ears, in five years. But is it possible? What is a neuralink? A coin-sized neuralink device called a link is fitted to the skull by a precision surgical robot. The robot connects a thousand micro threads from link to specific neurons. Each thread is about a quarter of the diameter of a human hair.

The device connects to an external computer via Bluetooth for continuous back and forth communication.

In the future, neuralink prostheses may be helpful for people with a variety of neurological disorders that are disconnected or defective between nerves that serve the brain and body. These include people with paraplegia, quadriplegia, Parkinson’s disease and epilepsy.

Since its founding in 2016, Neuralink has been hiring top neuroscientists from the academy and extensive research community to develop technology to treat these conditions.

Neuralink’s monkey can play pong with his mind. In April 2021, the company released an amazing proof-of-concept video. It showed a nine-year-old macaque monkey named Pager successfully playing the pong game with his mind, by connecting a neuralink device fitted to the computer running the game.

The pager is shown how to play a pong using a joystick. When he makes the right move, he sips the banana smoothie.

While he was playing, the neuralink implant recorded patterns of electrical activity in his brain. It detects which neurons control which movements.

When the joystick was disconnected, Pager was able to play and win the game using only his mind.

Human testing to further develop the neuralink prototype is expected to begin by the end of 2022, based on approval by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Elon Musk claims that the Neuralink device can cure tinnitus by 2027, according to Musk’s Tinnitus.

Tinnitus is a neurological condition that appears as ringing or tingling in the ears when there is no external source.

Tinnitus is a common problem that occurs when the nerve that connects the inner ear to the brain, called the vestibulococcal nerve, is damaged due to prolonged loud noise, injury, or defects in the blood supply.

The cure for tinnitus has been vaguely proven. Treatment is currently focused on learning to mask the sound or ignore it.

Currently, the neuralink prosthesis connects to the cerebral cortex, the surface layer of the brain. This is where the device can damage the brain’s ability to process motor sensory input or output.

Are Musk’s claims credible? These arguments may seem great. Yet the underlying science is not controversial.

Neural implants have been helping people since the first cochlear implant was placed in a deaf person in the early 1960s. Much progress has been made in the 60 years since then.

Neuroscientists are widely optimistic that the device has the potential to treat tinnitus. It is also useful in the treatment of obsessive compulsive disorder, in correcting brain injuries and in treating conditions such as autism or degenerative diseases of the nervous system using deep brain stimulation.

Paul Nujukian, director of the Brain Interfacing Laboratory at Stanford University, noted: “We are at the forefront of a complete paradigm shift. What should we be careful about? The FDA classifies neuralink as a Class III medical device, the most dangerous category. Before human testing can begin, Neuralink must successfully clear strict FDA regulatory regulations.

In order to be approved, the company must provide comprehensive clinical trial data from non-human test subjects (such as Pager the Monkey) to traditionally justify moving on to the next step. Some monkeys have died during neuralink tests and critics have raised animal welfare concerns.

The approval process for human testing can take some time.

Regulators are looking for unintended negative consequences of the device such as depression. Of interest is also how practical it is to remove or repair a device if it does not work, and how to handle the risk of brain injury or infection.

Once FDA-approved, Neuralink will recruit human volunteers and the next round of trials will continue.

Who cares how long it will take until the device is commercially available and how much it will cost. It could be years and with a price tag that is not available to everyone except the wealthy.

So it is wise not to have false hopes for an affordable implant in the short term.

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