Neuralink implant retracts from first patient’s brain

  • Neuralink says that it faced an issue with its brain implant soon after installation into the first patient’s head.
  • The issue saw the metal tendrils of the implant retract from the brain tissue.
  • Neuralink adjusted the implant’s algorithms and says it is now working better than before.

In February we detailed the disturbing and likely painful process involved in getting a Neuralink implant into your skull, so that its little metal tendrils can rest within your brain. Essentially, the company uses a big sowing machine to “sew” the strands into your head, and it has already done this with a person.

Unfortunately, soon after it was installed in the first test patient, the little tendrils withdrew from the brain tissue, though not completely, and the implant saw reduced function, according to a blog post from the Elon Musk-founded company.

The first Neuralink test patient, Noland Arbaugh, is a quadriplegic and is completely paralysed, but the Neuralink implant proved to help Arbaugh to play videogames like Civilisations VI and Mario Kart with his mind, to his enormous pleasure, and to that we say: Hell yeah, Noland.

But the retracting of the electrodes from the implant soon after surgery affected Arbaugh’s control of the mouse cursor that allows him to access the internet and play videogames.

“In the weeks following the surgery, a number of threads retracted from the brain, resulting in a net decrease in the number of effective electrodes. This led to a reduction in BPS (bits per second),” Neuralink explains.

Luckily, Neuralink were able to catch this issue quickly and adjusted the algorithm that records brain impulses to be more sensitive to signals, allowing control to be regained.

“We modified the recording algorithm to be more sensitive to neural population signals, improved the techniques to translate these signals into cursor movements, and enhanced the user interface. These refinements produced a rapid and sustained improvement in BPS, that has now superseded Noland’s initial performance,” the company adds.

According to a neuroscience journal article from the University of Pittsburgh, any penetration of the blood-brain barrier “triggers a cascade of biochemical pathways resulting in complex molecular and cellular responses to implanted devices.”

This cascade of bodily responses around the implant can cause injury, mechanical strain, and the degradation of brain cells.

“Changes to the tissue microenvironment surrounding the device can dramatically impact electrochemical and electrophysiological signal sensitivity and stability over time,” the researchers add.

While it is likely that Neuralink is aware of this, and has even told Arbaugh of the chances of side-effects from the implant, the company could face more consequences along the length of the implant’s installation. According to the Wall Street Journal, Neuralink even debated removing the implant when the problem was first detected.

We hope that Arbaugh can continue using the implant without it affecting his health, and it currently seems to be the case that it remains harmless. Arbaugh is using the implant now more than 69 hours in a single week.

“[The Neuralink implant] has helped me reconnect with the world, my friends, and my family. It’s given me the ability to do things on my own again without needing my family at all hours of the day and night,” he said.

According to Neuralink, it is planning to expand the functionalities of future implants.

“In the future, we intend to extend the Link’s functionality to the physical world to enable control of robotic arms, wheelchairs, and other technologies that may help increase independence for people living with quadriplegia,” it explains.

We’re hoping it can do so safely.


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