There's a Problem With Neuralink's Patient Implant

Threads containing electrodes retracted from Noland Arbaugh's brain, limiting data transfer
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted May 9, 2024 6:31 AM CDT
There's a Problem With Neuralink's Patient Implant
Neuralink founder Elon Musk addresses the European Jewish Association's conference, in Krakow, Poland, Monday, Jan. 22, 2024.   (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski, File)

A month after implanting a brain chip in its first human patient, Neuralink discovered a problem. Initially shown playing virtual chess, Mario Kart, and Civilization using his thoughts, quadriplegic Noland Arbaugh noticed his so-called mind control seemed to slow in the weeks after the Jan. 28 implantation, the Wall Street Journal reports. Several of the puck-like brain chip's 64 hair-like threads, which bear a combined 1,024 electrodes and are inserted into the brain's motor cortex to interpret neural signals, had come out, limiting the amount of data that could be captured, Neuralink wrote Wednesday in a blog post after the Journal posed questions about Arbaugh's case.

The company didn't offer an explanation for why the threads retracted, though it could be linked to air trapped in Arbaugh's skull after the implantation surgery, sources tell the Journal. Neuralink said the issue reduced the speed and accuracy at which Arbaugh could control a computer cursor. The company at one point considered removing the implant, but instead modified its algorithms to improve the transfer of data before airing a live demonstration of Arbaugh playing chess, per the Journal. Neuralink said Arbaugh continues using the brain-computer interface for eight to 10 hours a day. Arbaugh, seen showing off his abilities here, said the system allows him to "reconnect with the world," the blog post reads, per CNBC.

Neuralink told the FDA that it has solutions to the problem, sources tell the Journal. After a safety review of Arbaugh's case, the company intends to test its brain implant in two more human patients in the coming months, per the Journal. It ultimately hopes to implant the device in 10 people this year. News of the problem comes after Neuralink's cofounder, Dr. Benjamin Rapoport, suggested he left the company in 2018 due to safety concerns. Those "tiny little needle-like electrodes" cause "some amount of brain damage when they're inserted to the brain," he said on Friday's episode of the WSJ's "The Future of Everything" podcast, per Gizmodo. (More Neuralink stories.)

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