Invasive brain-computer interface is the technology that can really bring about disruptive changes. The future will open up the next generation of neurological diseases medical market

  More than 20 years ago, “The Matrix” was released, and the large-scale device that connected the human brain and the computer displayed in the film was impressive. This device is the brain-computer interface. In the 2018 movie “Upgrade”, the brain-computer interface evolved into a tiny chip that integrates artificial intelligence to restore normal paraplegic patients.
  ”Actually, the development of brain-computer interface can be seen through science fiction movies.” Bai Shuo, co-founder of Ningju Technology, told Shenghui. “Twenty years ago, the brain-computer interface of “The Matrix” required cables and a host. The whole device was very large and belonged to the previous generation of equipment, and what was shown in “Upgrade” three years ago is the development direction of the brain-computer interface in the next 10 years. And this is also the next-generation brain-computer interface we are developing, featuring wireless, miniature, multi-channel, and acquisition and stimulation.”
  Although the concept of brain-computer interface has been proposed decades ago, it was not until Musk founded it. Neuralink was really detonated, and the brain-computer interface officially entered the public eye, and it also won the favor of capital.

Bai Shuo, co-founder of Ningju Technology

  Founded in November 2019, Ningju Technology is a technology company incubated by the Department of Electronics of Tsinghua University, focusing on brain-computer interface materials, chips and systems. The company integrates integrated circuit technology and biomaterial technology to develop next-generation brain-computer interfaces, and independently develops long-term implantable wireless ultra-small information interaction terminal equipment for high data throughput neural signal acquisition and analysis, and neurobehavioral intervention. Provide solutions with regulation.
  It is reported that Ningju Technology completed a multi-million-dollar Pre-A round of financing in March this year, and the investor was Matrix Partners; Venture capital and investment.
The first commercial chip for brain-computer interface has been taped out

  Brain-computer interface can be regarded as an organic integration of two unrelated fields, chip technology and biomaterials. There are certain technical barriers. The R&D teams of Ningju Technology are all from biomaterials, chips and software majors, and more than 70% of them are doctors. %.
  At present, the first system-on-chip for brain-computer interface developed by Ningju Technology has been successfully taped out. It is expected that the equipment equipped with the self-developed chip will be mass-produced next year. It is understood that this chip has an area of ​​about 0.5cm², has 128 channels, and also integrates acquisition stimulation module, wireless transmission module and algorithm module.

Ningju Technology special chip for brain-computer interface

  ”Internal drive external, chip technology upgrade drives the entire equipment upgrade, and this brings about subversive changes in application scenarios.” Bai Shuo said. With the upgrade of the chip, such as more channels, stronger anti-noise, smaller size, lower power consumption, higher integration, and also wireless transmission.
  Although there are some brain-computer interface companies in China that are engaged in chip design, most of them are only used for display, and have not really achieved mass production and commercial use. “The NeuraMatrix special-purpose chip design is core-driven, and the first commercial chip in China has been launched, which can be used in medical equipment for mass production and use in the future. Technology can be said to be our core competitiveness, and it is also optimistic about capital. reason,” he pointed out.
It is planned to advance to the human trial stage next year

  Neurons in the brain perform functions through electrical signals (neuron firing), which are also the signals that the brain-computer interface needs to acquire, with frequencies ranging from 2Hz to 20,000Hz. The electrical signal is sent out by the neurons of the brain and transmitted to the outside of the brain through tissues, skulls, etc., and the high-frequency signal is greatly attenuated, so only the low-frequency signal of <100Hz can be collected outside the brain.   Therefore, non-invasive brain-computer interface devices (such as EEG caps) can only perform some "primary functions", such as monitoring sleep quality in a quiet environment.   "In my opinion, more applications of non-invasive brain-computer interface are just an auxiliary means, and invasive brain-computer interface is the technology that can really bring us disruptive changes." He added.   Ningju Technology leads the invasive brain-computer interface of "integration of acquisition and stimulation". In addition to electrical signal acquisition, it can also perform electrical stimulation intervention. From the perspective of pathogenesis, Parkinson's syndrome, epilepsy and other diseases are actually abnormal electrical signals in some nuclei in different brain regions. These signals are usually high-frequency signals and are located deep in the brain. Non-invasive brain-computer interfaces are difficult to monitor. and stimulation. Implanted electrodes for animal testing   The invasive brain-computer interface can accurately obtain all signals from low frequency to high frequency in this area of ​​the brain by implanting electrodes into this area of ​​the brain. achieve the treatment of the disease. "The research and treatment of neurological diseases, and even the future enhancement of human body functions, memory reading and writing, etc., can only be achieved through invasive brain-computer interfaces." Bai Shuo pointed out.   Take Parkinson's disease as an example. Currently, remission or treatment of the disease is usually achieved by implanting a brain pacemaker (DBS) in the patient's brain. DBS is a medical device that was born 20 years ago, "and what we're going to do (brain-computer interface) is a next-generation device," he said. DBS treatment requires craniotomy to implant electrodes and subcutaneous wiring. The DBS host (about half the size of the palm) is implanted into the clavicle of the patient, which causes great pain and risk to the patient.   In addition, the DBS is equipped with a general-purpose chip, most of which are single-channel stimulation, which cannot be used for signal acquisition, and the power consumption of the entire device is high. "Our brain-computer interface wireless device is the size of a dice, and can be implanted through minimally invasive surgery. The power consumption of the entire device is at the microwatt level. It is equipped with a dedicated chip and can realize the integration of multi-channel acquisition and stimulation." He added.   At present, Ningju Technology has cooperated with domestic companies, and has made great progress in the signal acquisition of diseases such as Parkinson's syndrome and epilepsy. It is not only smaller, but also capable of real-time monitoring and wireless transmission. "In the next year, we may be able to advance to the human trial stage." Bai Shuo pointed out. At this stage, the main focus is on scientific research equipment, and in the future, it will turn to medical equipment   At present, my country's high-end scientific research equipment and medical equipment mainly rely on imports. Brain-computer interface equipment is inseparable from brain research. Not long ago, the U.S. Department of Commerce planned to include brain-computer interface technology in export control. It is imminent to develop a brain-computer interface with China's independent property rights.   At this stage, Ningju Technology is providing scientific research equipment for some scientific research institutes (such as Chinese Academy of Sciences, Tsinghua University, etc.) and large hospitals (such as Tiantan Hospital, Xuanwu Hospital, etc.). In addition, it will also optimize, improve and iteratively upgrade equipment based on customer needs. At the same time, it is also exploring new treatment options with the hospital for Parkinson's syndrome, epilepsy, spinal paralysis and facial paralysis.   "At this stage, NeuraMatrix's main business is scientific research equipment, and in the future, it will turn to medical devices, including Class II and Class III medical devices." Bai Shuo said. According to reports, Ningju Technology will develop an "electronic skull". By opening small holes in the skull for electrode implantation, chips, batteries and other equipment will be embedded in the skull. The whole process can be completed with only one minimally invasive operation, reducing the need for The pain suffered by the patient, the difficulty and risk of the operation will also be greatly reduced.   "The medium and long-term development plan of NeuraMatrix is ​​mainly aimed at diseases, especially nervous system diseases." Bai Shuo said. It is understood that neurological diseases including epilepsy, Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease, etc. have now surpassed tumors to become the world's largest disease. Relying on the advantages of miniaturization and multi-channel brain-computer interface, it can make previously difficult Cured diseases are well treated. In addition, there was no modeling norm in the previous animal experiments. In the future, the brain-computer interface can be used to quantitatively evaluate various indicators before, during, and after treatment. There is little difference between domestic and foreign in terms of technology   Regarding the brain-computer interface companies at home and abroad, "I think that there is no particularly big competition between domestic and foreign companies, because it is far from the point of 'sparkling a prairie fire', and these companies are all at different technical levels and application levels. Various explorations and attempts." Bai Shuo said.   At the company level, the number of foreign companies engaged in brain-computer interface research is not large at present. The more representative one is Musk's Neuralink, while domestic brain-computer interface companies are mainly divided into several categories according to their focus:   Mention why Choosing to advance from the underlying technology, Bai Shuo believes, "We start from the underlying technology and chip design based on our own technology accumulation, in order to provide new solutions in some future application scenarios. After all, only the underlying technology can improve the brain. The overall application of machine interface brings a qualitative leap."   "In terms of technology, I don't think the gap between domestic and foreign countries is very big. The parameters such as chips and equipment independently developed by Ningju Technology are not much behind Musk's Neuralink, and even some parameters (such as power consumption, noise resistance, etc.) are even better. Advantage." Bai Shuo pointed out. "Most members of the Ningju Technology team returned from overseas, and they basically started at the same time as Musk's Neuralink. More importantly, relying on China's huge market size in the future, medical audiences and landing scenarios may even be more than foreign countries. better," he added.   With the continuous deepening of research on invasive brain-computer interfaces, "the medical field will definitely benefit first." Bai Shuo pointed out. In the future, only a tiny device needs to be implanted through minimally invasive surgery, so that patients with neurological diseases can live like normal people.   In essence, the brain-computer interface solves the problem of communication (that is, the sending and receiving of signals). Compared with inefficient sound waves, brain waves are obviously a more efficient and fast way of information exchange. In the future, machine interfaces will replace the current mode of human communication. As Liu Cixin described in his science fiction novel "Rural Teacher": the communication method of higher civilization should not be transmitted through sound waves.   In the near future, as 6G, quantum communication and other technologies solve the problem of transmission of large amounts of data, it is very likely that the terminal will be a brain-computer interface device. By implanting a micro device that is directly connected to the human nervous system, people can Communication through ideas, even visual sharing, memory interaction, etc. can be achieved.   "It is no exaggeration to say that many scenes in science fiction movies can become reality in 10 years." Bai Shuo concluded.

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