Elon Musk’s Neuralink posted job listings for a clinical trial director and coordinator for development of a chip that can be implanted in the human brain. The job listing says the clinical trial director will “work closely with some of the most innovative doctors and top engineers” and participants in clinical trials.
In 2019, Elon Musk expressed hope that Neuralink would become available in 2020. Like many Musk timelines, that proved overly optimistic, and he now expects that it will be released later this year.
Naturally, this will require regulatory approval, which comes with the risk of regulatory red tape holding up the process. This is often a source of aggravation for Elon Musk and his companies. Bureaucratic delays held up both the opening of Tesla’s Gigafactory Berlin and the launch of SpaceX’s orbital test flight of a Starship prototype, both of which were expected to happen last year and are now slated for this year.
Neuralink will have to pass U.S. Food and Drug Administration requirements for approval, including feasibility testing and a pivotal device test. The entire process, including the clinical trials, can take several years in most cases.
Animal testing showed that monkeys could use Neuralink devices to play video games with their thoughts alone. Trials on rats indicated the ability to use Neuralink to monitor their brainwaves as they navigated mazes. The next steps typically include human trials. In Neuralink’s case, volunteers are likely to have the implant surgically implanted in their brain.
Like many possible new medical and therapeutic implants, no one really knows what the long-term effects of a Neuralink implant will be. However, people who have serious neurological disorders like Parkinson’s disease may be willing to take the risk to relieve some of the symptoms. The promise was enough to net Neuralink $150 million in investments, including $100 million from Elon Musk.
Clinical trial directors typically become involved early in the process to maximize the chances of approval. Neuralink’s job openings list the “Clinical Trial Director” and “Clinical Trial Coordinator” positions in the Regulatory category.
The company says the brain implant will be available as treatment for neurological disorders, including paralysis. The trials with the monkeys indicate that it can also be used as a mind-machine interface. It could be used as a direct interface between the brain and a speech device similar to the one Stephen Hawking used, for instance. This could help individuals who have difficulty communicating verbally.
The human clinical trials for Neuralink have not been listed on clinicaltrials.gov yet, though there is typically a gap between recruitment of the first clinical trial participants and listing on the clinicaltrials.gov website. Neither Neuralink nor the FDA have responded to requests for comment.
Competitors for Neuralink could include Synchron, which gained approval for a feasibility study of its brain-machine interface from the FDA last year.
Job openings for Neuralink can be found on Greenhouse.io. Most of the job openings are based in Austin, Texas or Fremont, California.