Precision Neuroscience Array
Source: Precision Neuroscience
The human cerebral cortex is made up of six layers of cells, but at Precision Neuroscience, a team of scientists and engineers is hard at work building a device reminiscent of a seventh layer.
The device, called a Layer 7 cortical interface, is a brain implant designed to help paralyzed patients operate digital devices using only neural signals. That means patients with serious degenerative diseases like ALS could regain the ability to communicate with loved ones by moving a cursor, typing, or even accessing social media with their thoughts.
Layer 7 is an array of electrodes that resemble scotch tape and are thinner than a human hair, which helps it conform to the surface of the brain without damaging any tissue.
Founded in 2021, Precision is one of many companies in the emerging brain-computer interface (BCI) industry. A BCI is a system that deciphers brain signals and translates them into external technological commands, and several companies have successfully created devices that do this.
Precision was co-founded by Benjamin Rapoport, who also co-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 Rider of Precision Neuroscience examines the company’s microelectrode array
Source: Precision Neuroscience
To implant the Layer 7 array, surgeons create a very thin slit in the skull and slide the device in like a letter in a letterbox. Mager, who is also Precision’s chief executive, says the slits are 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 techniques where you do a craniotomy, remove most of the skull, which takes a lot of time and has a big risk of infection,” he told CNBC. Ever seen anyone want to drill a hole in their skull.”
The nature of the procedure allows Precision to easily increase the number of electrodes on the array, which Mager says will eventually allow the device to be used in neurological applications beyond paralysis.
The process is also reversible if the patient decides they no longer need the implant or want an updated version in the future.
“When you start thinking about rolling it out to a larger patient population, the risk-reward of any procedure is a fundamental consideration for anyone considering medical technology,” Mag said. “If you have a system that’s not reversible, or can cause damage when explanted, that means your 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 has made exciting progress in the field of minimally invasive BCIs. Not only do patients need to weigh the risks and benefits of surgery, but so do doctors and insurance companies, he said.
Doctors must make quantitative trade-offs for surgery based on existing literature, and insurance companies must weigh patient costs, so less invasive procedures make it easier for all three parties, Robinson said.
“It’s lower risk, but it also means an opportunity to treat more people and have higher 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 some other BCI devices.
“You get much better resolution than you can get from the outside of the skull, but not as high as going into the tissue,” he said. “But you can do a lot with this mesoscale.”
Precision has successfully used its Layer 7 device to decode neural signals in animals, and Mager said he hopes to get FDA approval to test the technology on humans in the coming months.
The company announced a $41 million Series B funding round on Wednesday, bringing its total raised to $53 million in less than two years. The funding will allow Precision to refine its product, hire more staff and expedite FDA regulatory review, something Mager said Precision is working toward.
“We don’t want the next 15 years to be like the last 15 years, where this could help dozens of people. So I think we’re in a hurry,” he said. “We have always heard [from patients] It’s, ‘We want this, we want it sooner rather than later. ‘”
Mager said he thinks this year is proving to be a “watershed year” for neurotech, and there’s been a lot of positive momentum in terms of funding in the BCI space.
While he said he understands the skepticism surrounding BCIs and the technology in general, Mager said he sees real potential to make a difference for the millions of people living with neurological disorders.
“I think, in many ways, the brain is the next frontier of modern medicine,” he said. “The fact that there are so many people with neurological impairment of one kind or another, and we have such crude tools to give them, is going to change. It’s changing.”