Precision Neuroscience Array
Source: Precision Neuroscience
The human cerebral cortex consists of six cellular layers, but at Precision Neuroscience, a team of scientists and engineers is working to create a device that resembles the seventh.
The device is called the Layer 7 Cortical Interface, and it’s a brain implant that aims to help paralyzed patients control digital devices using only neural signals. This means that patients with severe degenerative diseases such as ALS will regain their ability to communicate with loved ones by moving cursors, typing and even accessing social media using their minds.
Layer 7 is an electrode array that resembles a piece of tape and is thinner than a human hair, helping it conform to the surface of the brain without damaging the 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 this capability.
Precision is co-founded by Benjamin Rapaport, who also co-founded Elon Musk’s BCI, 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.
Precision Neuroscience’s Stephanie Ryder checks out the company’s microelectrode array
Source: Precision Neuroscience
To implant the layer 7 array, the surgeon makes a very thin slit in the skull and slides the device like a letter into a mailbox. Mager, who is also Precision’s CEO, said the slit 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 over technologies that require, for example, a craniotomy, to remove a large part of the skull, which takes a long time and has a high risk of infection,” he told CNBC. “I’ve never met anyone who wanted to drill a hole in their skull.”
The nature of the procedure allows Precision to easily increase the number of electrodes in the array, which Mager says will eventually allow the device to be used for neurological applications beyond paralysis.
The procedure is also reversible if patients decide they no longer need the implant or want newer versions in the future.
“When you start thinking about extending this to a larger patient population, the risk-reward ratio of any procedure is a fundamental consideration for anyone considering the use of medical technology,” Mager said. “If your system is either irreversible or potentially damaging when explanted, it just means you’re committing to a much larger implant.”
Jacob Robinson, assistant professor of electrical engineering at Rice University and founder of BCI company Motif Neurotech, said Precision is making exciting advances in minimally invasive BCI. 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 the existing literature, while insurance companies have to weigh costs for their patients, so less invasive surgery makes all three sides easier.
“It’s less risk, but it also means there’s an opportunity to treat more people, there’s more adoption,” he said.
But because the device isn’t inserted directly into brain tissue, Robinson said the resolution of brain signals won’t be as strong as with some other BCI devices.
“You get a much better resolution than if you were outside the skull, not as high resolution as in the tissue,” he said. “But there’s only so much you can do with that 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 in humans in the coming months.
On Wednesday, the company announced $41 million in Series B funding, bringing its total to $53 million in less than two years. The funding will allow Precision to improve its products, hire more employees and accelerate the FDA’s regulatory review, a goal that Mager said Precision is working toward quickly.
“We don’t want the next 15 years to be like the last 15 years, where it helps a few dozen people. That’s why I think we’re in a hurry,” he said. “What we hear constantly [from patients] it’s, “We want it, and we want it sooner rather than later.”
Mager said he sees this year as a “watershed year” in neurotechnology and that there is significant positive momentum in the field of BCI in terms of funding.
While he understands the skepticism surrounding BCI and technology in general, Mager said he believes there is real potential to make a difference for the millions of people who suffer from 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 who have neurological impairments of one sort or another, and that we have such crude tools to offer them, is going to make a difference. He is changing.”