Elon Musk claims that his brain chip will ‘cure’ tinnitus, but …

SCIENCE – After Tesla, SpaceX and Twitter, Elon Musk is also investing in the healthcare field. The billionaire puts on the white coat and says in a tweet on April 24 that brain prostheses from his company Neuralink will cure tinnitus within five years. Researchers temperament candvisionary project by Musk whereas today there is no miracle cure for this disorder.

Although neuroscientists have made significant progress, gray areas continue to understand tinnitus. Science has several hypotheses that combine hearing loss and a neurological problem. The first: a loss of hearing would cause a reaction in the brain, which “turns up the volume” to compensate for deafness. Another explains it with a destabilization of the auditory cortex, the area of ​​the brain that analyzes sounds.

In order to “cure” tinnitus, it would be necessary to find out which neuron is the cause of this dysfunction in the brain. Now there are 85 billion of them and there are 100,000 billion connections between them. “To put this astronomical figure in perspective, there are over 400 billion stars in the Milky Way galaxy, ”writes David Tuffley, associate professor of applied ethics and cyber security, at Griffith University in the science media. The conversation.

“healing” fleas

Researchers are trying to shed light on the brain map, but there are far too many neurological pathways. According to Elon Musk, the connected chip, “Link”, developed by Neuralink, will guide science to eradicate this disorder. “Link”, which is no larger than a coin, is implanted in the skull by a surgical robot to connect to the sound-related cortex. A thousand microscopic wires are attached to the chip and adhere to neurons. To communicate with them, the researchers then connect Link to an external computer via Bluetooth.

The project seems futuristic, but it’s serious. Since its inception in 2016, Neuralink has recruited many neuroscientists from academia. According to them, this technology could help people suffering from neurological disorders such as epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease or paraplegia.

In addition, neural implants have been developed since the 1960s, the first being placed on this date in a hearing impaired person. It is therefore not absurd on paper that such a device can cure tinnitus.

The first tests of Neuralink chips have even already been performed on animals. In a rather impressive video, released by Neuralink in April 2021, we see a macaque, Pager, having fun on a video game thanks to a chip implanted in its brain and connected to a computer running the game. The farm was relieved by a carrot: as soon as Pager made a proper move, he got a sip of banana smoothie.

The test was a success: once the device was disconnected, Pager was able to play on its own. This experiment also allowed researchers to connect a neuron with a Pager movement to better understand its brain activity.

A risky man-machine fusion

For now, Neuralink can play on monkeys’ neurons and teach them new behaviors, but the company is far from curing human diseases. No human experiments, even for simple experiments like the one performed on Pager, have been performed. And that’s probably not happening, monkeys have died during Neuralink tests.

In addition to the side effects, scientists warn of the commercial fallout of such a device. “I’m worried about an uncomfortable marriage between a for-profit business … and these medical interventions that are hopefully there to help people,” worries Karola Keritmair, assistant professor of medical history and bioethics at the University of Wisconsin, on the scientific news site Futura.

This chip also raises ethical questions: what will become of the data collected in the human brain? What is the risk of hacking or espionage carried out by malicious people?

The risks of this technology are so enormous that they currently outweigh its uncertain benefits. The US health police, FDA, have not yet commented on whether to continue trials with people with Neuralink. But scientist David Tuffley recalls The conversation that the administration already categorizes the Link chip as “Class III medical device, the most risky category”. With this technology, you need to be patient and careful, two qualities that Musk lacks.

Also look at HuffPost: With Neuralink, Elon Musk will read your thoughts from 2020

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