During an interview with TED’s Chris Anderson, Elon Musk remarked that his brain-machine interface startup, Neuralink, would be solving brain and spinal injuries “for probably a decade.” Musk noted that the startup’s technology could even address health conditions like morbid obesity.
Experts have now stated that while the idea may seem farfetched and while the science is yet to be proven, using brain implants to cure morbid obesity is actually a plausible idea. It might seem impossible considering that Neuralink’s technology is still in development and human trials are yet to begin, but similar to Musk’s other ideas, such as landing an orbital rocket’s first stage on a drone in the middle of the ocean, the concept is not as farfetched as it seems.
In a statement to Insider, Professor Andrew Jackson from Newcastle University, an expert in neural interfaces, noted that Neuralink’s concepts are no more impossible than other claims about neurotechnology. “I don’t think it is any more implausible than other claims for the potential of neurotechnology,” he said
Jackson added that Neuralink’s brain implants are actually less invasive than other treatments for morbid obesity. Some procedures designed to solve morbid obesity today involve changing the shape and function of a patient’s digestive tract. Such surgeries are typically costly, and recovery tends to be painful.
Neuralink aims to design and develop a fully integrated Brain Computer Interface (BCI) system, which could enable a computer or other digital device to communicate directly with the brain. Micron-scale threads in the neural implant are inserted into areas of the brain, allowing the implant to read and potentially stimulate brain activity.
While Elon Musk has not discussed details on how Neuralink’s technology could tackle the issue of morbid obesity, University of Cambridge professor of metabolism and medicine Sadaf Farooqi noted that a particular region of the brain, the hypothalamus, is typically the one that drives an increase in appetite. If Neuralink can target specific areas of the brain, then addressing issues like morbid obesity would definitely be feasible.
“We and others have shown that in some people with severe obesity, it’s the function of a particular brain region, the hypothalamus, that’s really driving often an increase in appetite. If you could find a way to target that particular region and even those particular neurons that drive appetite, then in theory, a drug or a technology that did that could improve the lives of patients,” Farooqi said.
Neuralink is yet to receive approval for human testing, but the line of individuals who are willing to try out the company’s technology is long. During his TED interview, Musk stated that the emails Neuralink receives from people are heartbreaking, as many of them reveal stories of people who were cut at the prime of their life.
“The emails that we get at Neuralink are heartbreaking. I mean, they’ll send us just tragic (stories). You know, where someone was sort of, in the prime of life and they had an accident on a motorcycle and someone who’s 25 can’t even feed themselves. This is something we could fix,” Musk said.