First Neuralink human brain-chip implant malfunctions within weeks, needs ‘tweaks’

May 9, 2024

Neuralink’s brain-chip implant is working—except that some of the device’s threads have pulled away from the first human patient’s brain, reports Business Insider.

Elon Musk‘s brain technology startup shared a progress update on patient Noland Arbaugh in a blog post on Wednesday, May 8—saying that a number of threads “retracted” from the patient’s brain a few weeks after his surgery. That rendered the implant less effective.

The “Link” device lets the patient move a computer cursor using his thoughts. An earlier blog post said that the process involves more than 1,000 electrodes in the device; and at least 64 threads, each thinner than a strand of human hair.

Neuralink measures the speed and accuracy of the Link’s cursor control using a metric called bits per second. The retraction of some of the threads caused the electrodes in the device to be less effective, Neuralink said. However, the company has since made tweaks; which, in turn, have “produced a rapid and sustained improvement in BPS, that has now superseded Noland’s initial performance.”

Neuralink announced in a livestream on X in March that 29-year-old Noland Arbaugh, who was paralyzed below the shoulders after a diving accident in 2016, was the first person to receive its implant in January.

The Wall Street Journal reported that Neuralink had at first considered removing the implant from the patient altogether, citing unnamed sources—but reportedly the enhancement to Arbaugh’s quality of life (even after the thread retraction) was such that the idea was dropped.

In February, Musk said on an X Spaces session that “progress is good” and that “the patient seems to have made a full recovery.”

In a meeting at Neuralink, shared on X in March, Arbaugh said it took five months from applying to be in Neuralink’s human trials to having brain surgery; which took less than two hours. Since it was implanted, he has used it to play video games, including “Mario Kart,” and to post on social media and play chess.

Neuralink didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment from Business Insider, made outside normal working hours.

Research contact: @BusinessInsider