Neuralink Reveals Issues With First Human Brain Implant After Surgery

Neuralink’s first human brain implant experienced some mechanical issues in the weeks after its implantation, resulting in some loss of connectivity, Elon Musk’s computer-brain interface company revealed this week.

An undisclosed number of ultra-thin threads that help Nolan Arbaugh, who’s a quadriplegic, control a computer cursor with his brain unexpectedly “retracted” from his brain, the California-based company disclosed in a blog post Wednesday.

To compensate for this loss, the company said engineers heightened the implant’s sensitivity to neural signals and adjusted how these neural signals translate into movements with the cursor. These changes, it said, ultimately resulted in “a rapid and sustained improvement … that has now superseded Noland’s initial performance.”

Elon Musk, seen in January, co-founded Neuralink, which performed its first human brain implant earlier this year.
Elon Musk, seen in January, co-founded Neuralink, which performed its first human brain implant earlier this year. via Associated Press

Though it was not suggested that the issue could pose a risk to Arbaugh’s safety, Neuralink did consider removing his implant after losing some of the threads, The Wall Street Journal reported, citing people familiar with the events.

The company has been in contact with the Food and Drug Administration, which approved Neuralink’s first human clinical trial a year ago this month, and it has told the federal agency that it believes it knows how to fix the implant’s problems, the Journal also reported.

A Neuralink representative did not immediately respond to HuffPost’s request for comment.

In a livestream video on Saturday, Arbaugh, who was paralyzed in 2016, demonstrated his ability to independently activate various computer programs with his brain. He had previously used a mouth-held stylus. The more time spent using the program, the more its accuracy improves, he said.

“Before I was having to do this in the most suboptimal way I think in the world, so it’s already changed my life as far as that goes, and it’s only going to get better,” he said while demonstrating his ability to play video games, access online books and use a language learning program.

Neuralink has said that it hopes to continually improve its cursor control and functionality to include text entry. It also has its sights on eventually controlling robotic arms, wheelchairs and other technology used by those living with quadriplegia.