Synchron, a brain interface startup, has created a technology for people with very limited physical mobility to operate cursors and smart home devices using their mind. The Synchron Switch is designed to transform daily life for people with paralysis.
Tom Oxley, Synchron CEO, in a recent interview said the nascent technology has been used on three patients in the United States and four in Australia. He highlighted moments between patient and partner, or patient and spouse. “It’s incredibly joyful and empowering to have regained an ability to be a little bit more independent that before. It helps them engage in ways that we take for granted.”
Synchron was granted the Breakthrough Device designation by the Food and Drug Administration in August 2020. This designation is for medical devices that have the potential to provide improved treatment for debilitating or life-threatening conditions. In 2021, it became the first company to receive an Investigational Device Exemption from the FDA to conduct trials of a permanently implantable Brain-Computer Interface (BCI) in human patients.
Decodes and Translates Signals
The BCI system deciphers brain signals and translates them into commands for external technologies. Now, Synchron is taking in patients in an early feasibility trial to show that the technology is safe to put in humans. Kurt Haggstrom, Synchron Chief Commercial Officer, said six patients will be implanted with the BCI – the company is already halfway through. Synchron wants to standout from its competitors by using a less invasive approach that builds on decades of existing endovascular techniques.
Oxley highlighted that they have inserted the BCI through the blood vessels, which he called the “natural highways” into the brain. “Synchron’s stent, which is called the Stentrode, is fitted with tiny sensors and is delivered to the large vein that sits next to the motor cortex. The Stentrode is connected to an antenna that sits under the skin in the chest and collects raw brain data that it sends out of the body to external devices.”
Peter Yoo, the senior director of neuroscience at Synchron, explained that the device is not directly inserted into the brain tissue as the quality of the brain signal is not perfect. “But the brain doesn’t like being touched by foreign objects and the less invasive nature of the procedure makes it more accessible,” he said. “There is roughly about 2,000 interventionalists who can perform these procedures. It’s a bit more scalable, compared to open-brain surgery or burr holes, which only neurosurgeons can perform.” For patients with severe paralysis or degenerative diseases like amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), Yoo said the technology can help them regain their ability to communicate with friends, family and the world.