May 23, 2024

Futureality

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Brain implant thinner than hair: How a novel technology may allow people to use devices with their mind

A new technological development could give people the ability to access their devices with only their minds.

Precision Neuroscience is introducing its breakthrough in medical science as a benefit for those who have experienced paralysis or other forms of limited mobility.

Precision CEO and co-founder Michael Mager shared in an interview with Fox News Digital how brain-computer interface (BCI) technology converts thoughts into action.

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“It’s a direct communication pathway between the brain’s electrical activity and an external device, most often a computer, but it also can be like a prosthetic,” he said.

BCIs have been proven to be functional for more than 15 years, but to date have only been implanted in about 40 people — which New York City-based Mager said he considered a “real shame.”

Stephanie Rider neuroscientist

Stephanie Rider of Precision Neuroscience in the company’s laboratory. The company’s CEO, Michael Mager, said he believes Precision’s technology eventually will be able to help “millions of people.”  (Precision Neuroscience / Fox News)

“Our fundamental goal is to change that,” he said. “To take this technology that has been proven to work and roll it out to the hundreds of thousands and eventually millions of people who could benefit enormously from it.”

These developments reportedly have been a lifelong venture for Precision’s chief science officer Ben Rapoport, who has two decades of experience developing BCIs, including during his work as a founding member at Neuralink.

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The neurosurgeon and electrical engineer has been a “pioneer” in the industry, Mager said, as he’s mapped out crucial characteristics for Precision’s BCI.

michael mager

Precision Neuroscience CEO and co-founder Michael Mager. (Precision Neuroscience / Fox News)

Said Mager of the BCI, according to Rapoport’s expertise, “It should be very high bandwidth. It should have lots of electrodes so that it can, you know, really drive meaningful function.” Other characteristics of the technology include having a minimally invasive deployment plus being reversible and minimally damaging.

‘Profound’ technology

Precision’s device is a super thin film — a fifth of the width of a human strand of hair — that has a similar consistency to a piece of scotch tape.FOX BU

The array contains 1,000 tiny electrodes — which, when placed, sits on the surface of the brain.

“And it’s able to then record the electrical signals that are coming off the brain,” Mager said.

precision device

Size reference of the array, compared to an adult thumb.  (Precision Neuroscience / Fox News)

Precision Neuroscience’s president and chief product officer Craig Mermel broke down the capabilities of the new technology in the same interview with Fox News Digital.

The Bay Area-based executive said what’s most “immediately accessible” in the near term is helping patients with paralysis caused by various conditions such as stroke, ALS and others.

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“The goal of the brain-computer interface is to place it over the regions of the brain where the motor activities are encoded in the brain, to record that activity — and then using software and machine learning to translate that into a signal that can be used to control a device,” he said. 

microelectrode array

Stephanie Rider of Precision Neuroscience inspects the company’s microelectrode array. (Precision Neuroscience / Fox News)

“In so doing, [it] gives patients back the ability to communicate, to work and to potentially control their environment.”

Mermel called the system “profound” since millions of Americans suffer from conditions that cause immobility — and currently, there are no other therapeutics offered by U.S. health care systems or companies, he said.

While the technology taps an “unmet need” in medicine, Mermel said the device’s functionality will be rolled out in stages.

craig mermel

Precision Neuroscience chief product officer and co-founder Craig Mermel. (Precision Neuroscience / Fox News)

“Initially, the application has the ability to restore your ability to communicate with your computer, your mobile device,” he said. 

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“And that then has a bunch of downstream applications — your ability to send emails, to send messages, to navigate the web.” 

Non-invasive, micro-incision procedure

While Precision’s capabilities have the potential to continue branching out, the preparation for implanting the device includes a calculated effort to make sure there is minimal damage to brain tissue.

The novel technique is called a “micro-slit insertion,” Mermel said. 

“When the patient’s done with the surgery, there’s no hair removed and there’s essentially no sign that any major surgery had been done.”

It involves a small, sub-millimeter-thick incision at the top of the head as opposed to a craniotomy, in which large sections of the skull are removed.

The electro-rays are then non-invasively slid into the slit and placed onto the brain surface.

precision array

Mock drawing of Precision Neuroscience’s array, the Layer 7 Cortical Interface. (Precision Neuroscience / Fox News)

The procedure is still under development — but it’s expected to take less than an hour to complete.

“When the patient’s done with the surgery, there’s no hair removed and there’s essentially no sign that any major surgery had been done,” he said.

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“It’s something we’re very proud of and think it’s going to be extremely important in the future,” he added.

Both the cortical surface array technology and the non-invasive procedure, developed by Rapoport, are patented and unique to Precision Neuroscience.

‘Rapidly moving’ toward a ‘regulated device’

Precision raised $12 million in capital in April 2021 to launch the company officially. 

“We like to say that the work has been done quickly, but the team has, collectively, hundreds of years of experience that went into allowing us to do it,” Mermel said.

“We are rapidly moving toward having a regulated device.”

Precision Neuroscience scientists

Morgan LaMarca and Adam Poole of Precision Neuroscience inspect the company’s implant under a microscope. (Precision Neuroscience / Fox News)

Precision hopes to submit its first application to the FDA this year for a 30-day implant, according to Mager.

The implant that will remain in the body indefinitely has a longer outlook in terms of regulation.

On that, Mager predicted action within the next four to five years.

Although there is no price tag applicable at this time, Mager stressed the device and the procedure “need to be covered by insurance.”

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“The amount of benefit [patients] can derive from using one of these implants — we think we’ve got a strong case,” he said.

As modern technology continues to progress rapidly, Mager said Precision expects the public to feel a mix of “excitement and caution” around this development, too.

Precision Neuroscience

Precision Neuroscience’s array. “We’re focused on a specific group of patients for whom this technology has the potential to be transformative.” (Precision Neuroscience / Fox News)

“We’re focused on a specific group of patients for whom this technology has the potential to be transformative,” he said. “So, I don’t think there’s all that much sort of confusion around whether what we’re trying to accomplish is good or bad.”

People are “really desperate for things that have the potential to make their lives meaningfully better.”

He added, “I think if you talk to the folks for whom this technology has the potential to really make a big difference, they’re incredibly excited and really desperate for things that have the potential to make their lives meaningfully better.”

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Mager and Mermel agreed there is potential for clinical benefit beyond those who suffer from paralysis, but the entire focus of the endeavor will always be on medical applications, they said.

Mermel, who was classmates with Rapoport at Harvard Medical School, credited the success of the Precision venture to their “amazing team” and its members who have worked for tech behemoths such as Apple, Google and Neuralink.

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“It’s bringing together all the talent and different perspectives to make progress,” he said.