Neuralink’s first brain chip implant developed a problem, but there was a workaround

NEW YORK —The first test subject for Neuralink, Elon Musk’s brain chip implant startup, has developed a problem just a few weeks after it was inserted.

In a blog post, the company revealed that a number of the chip’s connective threads retracted from the subject Noland Arbaugh’s brain, which hindered the implant’s data speeds and effectiveness. The company offered few details about the incident – including exactly how the threads became detached. But the company said it was able to make the implant more sensitive to increase its performance even further.

Arbaugh, Neuralink’s first human patient, has been a quadriplegic since 2016 following a diving accident. He was implanted with the chip in January as part of a trial called PRIME Study, short for Precise Robotically Implanted Brain-Computer Interface.

The intent is to study the safety of its implant and surgical robot and to test the functionality of its device, the company said in a 2023 blog post about recruiting trial participants.

Trial patients have chips surgically placed in the part of the brain that controls the intention to move. The chip, installed by a robot, then records and sends brain signals to an app, with the initial goal being “to grant people the ability to control a computer cursor or keyboard using their thoughts alone,” Neuralink previously explained.

About a month after the operation, Musk said Arbaugh could control a computer mouse with his brain after having the chip implanted.

Ultimately, Neuralink’s ambition is to use implants to connect human brains to computers to help, for example, paralyzed people to control smartphones or computers or blind people to regain sight. Like existing brain-machine interfaces, the company’s implant would collect electrical signals sent out by the brain and interpret them as actions.

Musk previously said that the company’s first product would be called Telepathy, adding that its initial users will be people who have lost the use of their limbs.

“Imagine if Stephen Hawking could communicate faster than a speed typist or auctioneer. That is the goal,” Musk wrote.

Consumers will not have widespread access to the technology anytime soon. Before Neuralink’s brain implants hit the broader market, they’ll need broader regulatory approval.

Neuralink has already received Food and Drug Administration clearance for trials and has told the agency about this new issue, according to the Wall Street Journal, which first reported the story.

CNN’s Clare Duffy contributed to this report.

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