- Synchron is part of an emerging crop of companies testing technology in the brain-computer interface industry.
- The system is implanted through the blood vessels and allows patients to operate technology using only their minds.
- “It helps them engage in ways that we take for granted,” Synchron CEO Tom Oxley said.
In a Brooklyn lab stuffed with 3D printers and a makeshift pickleball court, employees at a brain interface startup called Synchron are working on technology designed to transform daily life for people with paralysis.
The Synchron Switch is implanted through the blood vessels to allow people with no or very limited physical mobility to operate technology such as cursors and smart home devices using their mind. So far, the nascent technology has been used on three patients in the U.S. and four in Australia.
“I’ve seen moments between patient and partner, or patient and spouse, where it’s incredibly joyful and empowering to have regained an ability to be a little bit more independent than before,” Synchron CEO Tom Oxley told CNBC in an interview. “It helps them engage in ways that we take for granted.”
Founded in 2012, Synchron is part of the burgeoning brain-computer interface, or BCI, industry. A BCI is a system that deciphers brain signals and translates them into commands for external technologies. Perhaps the best-known name in the space is Neuralink, thanks to the high profile of founder Elon Musk, who is also the CEO of Tesla, SpaceX and Twitter.
But Musk isn’t the only tech billionaire wagering on the eventual transition of BCI from radical science experiment to flourishing medical business. In December, Synchron announced a $75 million financing round that included funding from the investment firms of Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos.
In August 2020, the Food and Drug Administration granted Synchron the Breakthrough Device designation, which is for medical devices that have the potential to provide improved treatment for debilitating or life-threatening conditions. The following year, Synchron became the first company to receive an Investigational Device Exemption from the FDA to conduct trials of a permanently implantable BCI in human patients.
Synchron is enrolling patients in an early feasibility trial, which aims to show that the technology is safe to put in humans. Six patients will be implanted with Synchron’s BCI during the study, and Chief Commercial Officer Kurt Haggstrom said the company is currently about halfway through.
The company has no revenue yet, and a spokesperson said Synchron isn’t commenting on how much the procedure will eventually cost.
While many competitors have to implant their BCIs through open-brain surgery, Synchron relies on a less invasive approach that builds on decades of existing endovascular techniques, the company said.
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