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Neuralink knew of issues with breakthrough brain implant for years: Report

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A report from Reuters on Wednesday, May 15, found that Elon Musk’s company, Neuralink, knew about the possibility of tiny wires coming loose from its experimental brain implant device years before the first human patient experienced the issue. The company became aware of the issues with the device, which gives paralyzed patients the ability to operate digital devices with the power of their minds, during testing on animals.

The findings were ahead of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s approval last year. In 2022, the FDA initially rejected Neuralink’s application for human trials after safety concerns were raised about the wire threads following Neuralink’s animal testining. However, after further testing, the FDA granted approval in 2023.

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When reached for comment on the new report, the FDA said that it is continuing to monitor the safety of patients taking part in the Neuralink study.

According to Reuters sources, the company knew from the animal testing that the threads in the device could retract, removing sensitive electrodes that decode brain signals. The problem could result in fewer electrodes measuring brain signals, causing the device to experience performance issues.

However, Neuralink didn’t find the problem to be great enough to warrant a complete redesign. Instead the company said it found a work-around for the first human patient, Noland Arbaugh, who was paralyzed from the shoulders down after a diving accident in 2016. The company reported it changed algorithms to improve the issue.

The wires attached to the device are thinner than a human hair, which aids in seamless removal of the implant and more ease in updating the device. According to the company, if larger wires were used it would result in the threads being anchored to the brain, creating an even greater danger to the patient. Larger wires being removed could lead to damage to brain tissue.

Arbaugh’s brain implant has 64 threads, some of which retracted. However, Neuralink did not disclose how many wires did become loose.

Arbaugh’s issues with the threads reportedly came weeks after his surgical procedure in January. Neuralink told The Wall Street Journal the retracted wires resulted in a reduction in bits-per-second, a measure of speed and accuracy for the patient’s ability to move computer cursor with his mind.

Neuralink did not disclose if there were any physical side effects from Arbaugh. In March, the company released a video showing Arbaugh playing video games with the power of his mind. He can also reportedly browse the internet and use a computer mouse with the help of the implant.

Neuralink has yet to respond to the latest report on problems with the threads. However, the company has revealed it plans on implanting the experimental device into 10 more human patients this year.

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[LAUREN TAYLOR]

WHEN ELON MUSK’S NEURALINK POSTED VIDEO IN MARCH OF NOLAND ARBAUGH, WHO IS PARALYZED FROM THE SHOULDERS DOWN, PLAYING VIDEO GAMES USING JUST BRAIN SIGNALS, THE WORLD TOOK NOTICE. 

ARBAUGH WAS NEURALINK’S FIRST HUMAN PATIENT TO RECEIVE IT’S BRAIN IMPLANT TECHNOLOGY. 

LAST WEEK, THE COMPANY REVEALED AN ISSUE WITH THE BRAIN CHIP — SOME OF ITS TINY WIRES HAD RETRACTED FROM ARBAUGH’S BRAIN.

NOW A REPORT FROM REUTERS SAYS NEURALINK KNEW ABOUT THE POSSIBLE WIRE ISSUE FOR YEARS BEFORE ARBAUGH RECEIVED THE IMPLANT.

IN 2022, THE FDA INITIALLY REJECTED NEURALINK’S APPLICATION FOR HUMAN TRIALS AFTER SAFETY CONCERNS WERE RAISED ABOUT THE WIRE THREADS FOLLOWING NEURALINK’S ANIMAL TESTING.

AFTER THE COMPANY CONDUCTED MORE ANIMAL TESTS TO ADDRESS THE THREAD CONCERNS, THE FDA GAVE THE OK FOR HUMAN TESTING. 

ACCORDING TO REUTERS’ SOURCES, THE COMPANY KNEW FROM THE ANIMAL TESTING THE WIRES COULD RETRACT, REMOVING ELECTRODES USED TO DECODE BRAIN SIGNALS.

NEURALINK DIDN’T CONSIDER THE PROBLEM BIG ENOUGH TO WARRANT AN ENTIRE REDESIGN.

THE ALTERNATIVE WOULD BE LARGER WIRES– WHICH COULD POSE A GREATER DANGER TO THE PATIENT.

LARGER WIRES COULD REQUIRE BEING ANCHORED TO THE BRAIN, WHICH COULD CAUSE BRAIN TISSUE DAMAGE IF THEY ARE REMOVED.

THE CURRENT WIRES, WHICH ARE THINNER THAN A HUMAN HAIR, ARE DESIGNED FOR SEAMLESS REMOVAL AND ALLOWING THE IMPLANT TO BE UPDATED OVER TIME.

WHEN SOME OF NOLAND ARBAUGH’S 64 THREADS RETRACTED IN HIS BRAIN, THE COMPANY CONSIDERED REMOVING THE DEVICE BUT THEN FOUND A WORK-AROUND TO IMPROVE THE DEVICE’S PERFORMANCE.

NEURALINK DID NOT DISCLOSE ANY SIDE EFFECTS, IF ANY, THE ARBAUGH HAD.

NEURALINK PLANS TO IMPLANT DEVICES IN 10 MORE PEOPLE BY THE END OF THE YEAR.

NEURALINK HAS YET TO RESPOND TO THE LATEST REPORT.

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