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Optogenetic rat
An optical-fiber device shoots pulses of light into the brain of a transgenic rat to study its behavior when specific sets of neurons are stimulated. (Northern Michigan University Photo)

If Neuralink, the brain-chip company backed by billionaire Elon Musk, ever wants to hook up minds and machines, it’ll have to test the technology on animals first.

Today Gizmodo reports that the California-based venture is already looking into animal testing, and may have funded some experiments already.

That assessment is based on a permit for using lab animals that Neuralink received from California state officials, plus a letter sent to San Francisco city planners that referred to building “a small operating room for in vivo testing, and a small room to house rodents.”

Gizmodo says there’s no evidence that Neuralink has gone ahead with the building plans, let alone the animal tests. However, a representative of the University of California at Davis is quoted as confirming that Neuralink is sponsoring research there.

Neuralink also is running a job listing that seeks a full-time lab manager who would work in San Francisco on “state-of-the-art research in nanotechnology and microelectromechanical systems,” alongside neuroscientists as well as nanotechnologists.

“While many of our resources can be found in typical semiconductor process environments, we are highly interdisciplinary, and the usage often deviates from traditional semiconductor processing,” the listing says.

Microelectromechanical systems, or MEMS, happen to be a tool of the trade for brain-computer interfaces. An assessment published last month by Grand View Research projected that the market for microelectronic medical implants could reach $57 billion by 2025.

That figure includes devices with applications outside the brain, such as pacemakers. Nevertheless, Neuralink’s interest in MEMS is in line with Musk’s ambition to market a device that can help with severe brain injuries by 2021 or so.

Gizmodo said a representative of Neuralink declined to comment on the company’s research plans, and Musk did not respond to a request for comment.

Neuralink made a splash a year ago when Musk’s role as a backer came to light. Musk is the CEO of the SpaceX rocket company and Tesla, which makes electric cars, solar power generating systems and power storage systems. He’s also the founder of a tunneling venture called the Boring Company.

Musk’s net worth is currently estimated at $18.2 billion.

Read Gizmodo’s full report

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