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Brain-Computer Interface Startup Implants First Device in US Patient

Synchron’s procedure will help an ALS patient text by thinking, in a major step forward in a nascent industry, with the Brooklyn-based company recently overtaking Elon Musk’s Neuralink.

Synchron CEO Thomas Oxley holding a stentrode at the company’s offices in Brooklyn, N.Y., on July 18.

Synchron CEO Thomas Oxley holding a stentrode at the company’s offices in Brooklyn, N.Y., on July 18.

Photographer: Bryan Anselm for Bloomberg Businessweek
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On July 6 a doctor at the Mount Sinai West medical center in New York threaded a 1.5-inch-long implant made up of wires and electrodes into a blood vessel in the brain of a patient with ALS, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. The hope is that the patient, who’s lost the ability to move and speak, will be able to surf the web and communicate via email and text simply by thinking—the device will translate his thoughts into commands sent to a computer.

Synchron, the startup behind the technology, has already implanted its devices in four patients in Australia, who haven’t experienced side effects and have been able to carry out such tasks as sending WhatsApp messages and making online purchases. The recent procedure was the first the company has done in the US, putting it ahead of competitors including Elon Musk’s Neuralink Corp. “This surgery was special because of its implications and huge potential,” says Dr. Shahram Majidi, the neurointerventional surgeon who performed it.