Neuralink’s First Brain Implant Partly Detached From the Patient

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Key Takeaways

  • Neuralink revealed that its first human brain implant partly detached.
  • The company compensated by making the chip more sensitive to input.
  • The patient now has better performance than he did after surgery.

Neuralink has revealed that its first patient’s brain implant partially detached in the weeks after it was installed in January.

Some of the 64 threads linking the implant of Noland Arbaugh, who is quadriplegic, “retracted” from the brain. That reduced the number of bits per second (BPS, the benchmark for cursor control accuracy and speed) from near eight in mid-February to just over 2 in March.

The Elon Musk-owned company found a way to compensate. It increased the sensitivity of the recording algorithm, improved the methods of turning brain signals into cursor activity, and refined the user interface. The updates not only restored Arbaugh’s BPS, but helped it outperform his pre-detachment experience.

The Wall Street Journal learned that Neuralink mulled the possibility of removing the implant after discovering the problem. The company spent years testing on animals before moving to humans.

The brain implant lets paralyzed people like Arbaugh control devices with their neural output. Ideally, this will help patients control computers and otherwise perform tasks that would previously be off-limits.

Neuralink received Food and Drug Administration (FDA) clearance for human trials in May 2023. It opened enrollment for the trials in September that year.

The retraction isn’t a major setback for Neuralink. However, it does increase pressure on a company that’s already in fierce competition with other brain implant developers. Motif Neurotech, Precision Neuroscience, Synchron, and others have tried at least temporarily installing chips in people to gauge their effects.

If this initial human brain implant doesn’t suffer any more serious issues, it should help Neuralink advance toward further trials and, eventually, use in medicine.