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Neuralink's First Human Brain Implant Encounters Issue

Elon Musk's Neuralink encountered a setback when part of its brain implant malfunctioned in its first human trial
May 10, 2024

Elon Musk’s brain-machine interface startup Neuralink faced a setback as part of its brain implant malfunctioned after being placed in a human patient for the first time. 

Neuralink has developed a brain-computer interface (BCI) called the Link, which, in the future, could potentially help paralyzed patients control external technology using just their thoughts. The Link system comprises 1,024 electrodes spread across 64 threads, each thinner than a human hair, as detailed on the company's website.

In January, Neuralink conducted its first human trial, implanting the device in a 29-year-old patient named Noland Arbaugh. In a live video streamed in March, Arbaugh showcased the BCI's functionality, and in an April blog post, Neuralink expressed satisfaction with the surgery's outcome.

However, Neuralink revealed in a recent blog post that, in the weeks following the surgery, some of the threads connected to Arbaugh’s brain had retracted, reducing the effectiveness of the electrodes and hindering the system's performance.

Although Neuralink did not disclose the number of retracted threads, it assured that Arbaugh's safety wasn't compromised. To address the issue, Neuralink has modified the recording algorithm, improved the user interface, and enhanced techniques for translating neural signals into cursor movements.

Despite the setback, Arbaugh continues to use Neuralink’s BCI system for up to ten hours a day on weekends and around eight hours a day during the week. He described the Link as a "luxury overload" and stated that it has helped him "reconnect with the world."

While Neuralink is a frontrunner in BCI technology, it's not the only player in the field. BCIs have been explored in academic settings for decades.

Neuralink still has a long journey of safety and efficacy testing before it can seek approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to commercialize the technology. However, with continuous improvements and patient feedback like Arbaugh's, the future of BCI technology appears promising.

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