Elon Musk's Neuralink Aware of Brain Implant's Wire Issues Years Before Tested to First Human Patient: Report

By Jace Dela Cruz

May 16, 2024 11:04 AM EDT

Neuralink has recently disclosed that the tiny wires inside its first human patient's brain shifted position, which was an issue that Elon Musk's company has known for years, according to sources familiar with the matter.

Milken Institute's Global Conference Held In Beverly Hills
BEVERLY HILLS, CALIFORNIA - MAY 6: Elon Musk, co-founder of Tesla and SpaceX and owner of X Holdings Corp., speaks at the Milken Institute's Global Conference at the Beverly Hilton Hotel,on May 6, 2024 in Beverly Hills, California.
(Photo : Apu Gomes/Getty Images)

Brain Implant Wires of Neuralink Retract

Three sources told Reuters that before receiving US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval in 2023, Neuralink initiated animal testing that revealed these wires could retract, potentially eliminating the sensitive electrodes responsible for decoding brain signals. 

Despite this, the sources noted that the company did not find the risk substantial enough to warrant a redesign. Neuralink aims to develop a brain-computer interface (BCI) that could assist people with paralysis in controlling external devices using their thoughts alone. 

BCI is a technology that decodes and transmits brain signals to an external device to perform a desired action. According to Neuralink, its "Link" system records neural signals utilizing 1,024 electrodes across 64 wires or "threads" thinner than a human hair.

Last week, the company said a part of its brain implant had experienced mechanical issues or malfunctioned a few weeks after the procedure on its first human patient. Neuralink noted that some of the electrode-studded threads had retracted from the patient's brain, resulting in the device not working correctly. 

With only a few effective wires, the company's ability to measure the system's speed and accuracy became limited. Neuralink said it counteracted that retraction through software fixes.

The company noted that it had modified the algorithm to be more sensitive and improved the user interface and techniques for translating signals into cursor movements.

READ NEXT:  Elon Musk Says First Neuralink Human Patient Received Brain Implant, Wants Stephen Hawking-Alike to 'Communicate Faster Than an Auctioneer' 

FDA Receives the Wire Retraction Issue of Neuralink

According to Reuters, the FDA was informed of the potential wire retraction issue as Neuralink included animal testing results in its application for human trials. 

Without directly answering if the agency is aware of the issue, the FDA told Reuters that it would continue to monitor the safety of patients enrolled in Neuralink's study. The Wall Street Journal reported that the company plans to implant 10 of its devices in other human patients before the end of this year.

Noland Arbaugh, who became a quadriplegic following a serious diving accident eight years ago, received the company's brain chip implant in January as part of a study to test its safety.

According to the 29-year-old first human patient of Neuralink, the brain chip implant has already allowed him to play video games for hours without relying on his family members for assistance.

READ MORE: Neuralink Co-Founder Implies He Left Elon Musk's Brain Implant Company Over Safety Concerns

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