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Precision neuroscience array

Source: Precision Neuroscience

The human cerebral cortex is made up of six cell layers, but a team of scientists and engineers at Precision Neuroscience is working on a device that mimics the seventh.

The device is called the Layer 7 Cortical Interface, and it’s a brain implant that aims to help paralyzed patients operate digital devices using only nerve signals. This means that patients with severe degenerative diseases like ALS will regain their ability to communicate with loved ones by moving cursors, typing and even accessing social networks with their minds.

Layer 7 is an array of electrodes that looks like scotch tape and is thinner than a human hair, helping it conform to the surface of the brain without damaging any tissue.

Founded in 2021, Precision is one of many companies in the burgeoning brain-computer interface, or BCI, industry. A BCI is a system that decodes brain signals and translates them into commands for external technology, and several companies have successfully created devices with these capabilities.

Precision is co-founded by Benjamin Rapoport, who also founded Elon Musk’s BCI company, Neuralink, and Michael Mager. But while Neuralink’s BCI is designed to be implanted directly into brain tissue, Precision relies on a surgical technique designed to be less invasive.

Stephanie Ryder of Precision Neuroscience inspects the company’s array of microelectrodes

Source: Precision Neuroscience

To implant the Layer 7 array, the surgeon makes a very thin incision in the skull and slides in the device like a letter in a letter box. Mager, who is also Precision’s CEO, says the incision is less than a millimeter thick, so small that patients don’t even need to shave their hair for the procedure.

“I think that’s a big advantage compared to technologies that require, for example, craniotomy, the removal of a significant portion of the skull, which takes a lot of time and has a high risk of infection,” he told CNBC. “I’ve never met anyone who wanted a hole punched in their skull.”

The nature of the procedure allows Precision to easily increase the number of electrodes on the array, which Mager says will allow the device to be used for neurological applications outside of stroke.

The process is also reversible if patients decide they no longer want the implant or want newer options in the future.

“When you start thinking about scaling this up to larger patient populations, the risk-reward of any procedure is a fundamental consideration for anyone thinking about medical technology,” Mager said. “If your system is either irreversible or potentially damaging at implantation, it just means that the commitment to getting the implant is much greater.”

Jacob Robinson, associate professor of electrical engineering at Rice University and founder of BCI company Motif Neurotech, said Precision is making exciting strides in the minimally invasive BCI space. He said it’s not just patients who have to weigh the risks and benefits of the procedure, but so do doctors and insurance companies.

Robinson said doctors have to weigh procedures quantitatively and based on available literature, while insurance companies have to weigh the cost to their patients, so less invasive surgery makes it easier for all three parties.

“It’s lower risk, but it also means there’s an opportunity to treat more people, there’s greater adoption,” he said.

But because the device isn’t implanted directly into brain tissue, Robinson said, the resolution of brain signals won’t be as strong as some other BCI devices.

“You get much better resolution from outside the skull, not as high a resolution as you get into the tissue,” he said. “But there’s only so much you can do at this kind of medium scale.”

Precision has successfully used its Layer 7 device to decode neural signals in animals, and Mager said it hopes to get FDA approval to test the technology on humans in the coming months.

On Wednesday, the company announced a $41 million Series B funding round, bringing its total raised over two years to $53 million. The funding will allow Precision to improve its product, hire more employees and speed up FDA regulatory review, a goal Mager said Precision is moving quickly toward.

“We don’t want the next 15 years to be like the last 15 years, where it helps a few dozen people. So I think we’re in a hurry,” he said. “What we hear consistently [from patients] “We want this, and we want it sooner rather than later.”

Mager said he believes this year is proving to be a “watershed year” for neurotechnology, and that there has been a lot of positive momentum in terms of funding in the BCI space.

While he said he understands the skepticism that exists around BCIs and technology in general, Mager said he believes there is real potential to make a difference for millions of people with neurological conditions.

“I think the brain is in many ways the next frontier of modern medicine,” he said. “The fact that there are so many people with neurological disorders of one kind or another, and that we have such crude tools to offer them, is going to change. That’s changing.”

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