Neuralink’s First Human Brain Implant Suffers Major Problem

By: Julia | Published: May 10, 2024

Neuralink’s first human brain implant has suffered a major problem, as some of the chip’s connection threads have begun to retract from the brain.

The Elon Musk-owned company has made waves in the news and science communities thanks to what they’re touting as a successful human brain chip implant. However, if this problem persists, it could become a massive issue for Neuralink.

Neuralink’s Mission

In February 2024, patient Noland Arbaugh underwent surgery that resulted in a Neuralink chip being attached to his brain.

Elon Musk in 2020 with a Neuralink machine.

Source: Steve Jurvetson/Wikimedia Commons

Neuralink’s first human implant is designed to help people such as Arbaugh, a quadriplegic, control things like a keyboard or computer mouse. The implant, which holds a processing chip and battery, is embedded in Arbaugh’s skull through 64 fine threads of connection.

Chip Connections

These very fine threads help the entire implant connect to the brain. The threads are connected to the brain tissue.

A black Neuralink logo.

Source: Neuralink/Wikimedia Commons

Through these pathways, the chip can interact with neural signals that it then sends out to help Arbaugh move things such as a mouse cursor.

Implant Problems

However, new reports have revealed that Neuralink has not been without its problems. For the first time, the public has learned that Arbaugh’s chip did have some major issues not too long after it was implanted in his skull.

A rendering of a brain around blue and purple colors.

Source: Milad Fakurian/Unsplash

About a month after Arbaugh’s surgery, the device in his skull began to see a decrease in functionality.

Connection Issues

This decrease in functionality apparently occurred after some of the very fine threads connecting the implant to the skull began to retract from the brain.

Many black and white images of the brain.

Source: cottonbro studio/Pexels

Eventually, this led to at least part of the device retracting from Arbaugh’s brain.

Why These Threads Retracted

So far, Neuralink hasn’t completely clarified why these fine threads had begun to retract only a month after they were surgically connected to Arbaugh’s brain.

A close-up of a brain on a white surface.

Source: BUDDHI Kumar SHRESTHA/Unsplash

However, the company has stated that their engineers have further refined the implant — and restored complete functionality to the chip in Arbaugh’s head.


Neuralink’s Potential Moves

Reporting from the Wall Street Journal has declared that Neuralink was mulling over a few different options on what to do with these retracted threads.

A close-up of a computer screen analyzing a brain scan.


At first, the company thought they should remove the entire implant because these threads weren’t staying attached. However, they eventually decided against this.


Arbaugh’s Safety

Clearly, Arbaugh’s safety is paramount to this entire experiment. However, it doesn’t appear that these retracting threads harmed Arbaugh at all.

A close-up of brain scans on a tablet.

Source: Tima Miroshnichenko/Pexels

Neuralink doesn’t believe that Arbaugh was endangered during this time. Even when the threads weren’t allowing full functionality, Arbaugh could still play a chess game on a computer by only using his thoughts.


Neuralink’s Future

While it appears that Neuralink has solved this problem, there is still the possibility that it could continue to remain a huge issue for the implant company in the future.

The Pioneer Building, which houses Neuralink and OpenAI, seen in San Francisco with cars out front of it.

Source: HaeB/Wikimedia Commons

After all, if the fine threads working to connect the chip to Arbaugh’s brain continue to disconnect and retract, for whatever reason, the company will have to find out why this is happening and try to solve it.


A Difficult Experiment

Neuralink’s experiment has always been considered incredibly difficult, as the entire process is something that has never been done before. Plus, any experiment on the notoriously tricky brain is bound to make scientists worried.

A close-up of a clear, lit-up brain statue.

Source: Lisa Yount/Unsplash

Even though the brain implant is still in its early stages, and even though Arbaugh is the only human to have this chip in his brain, the company is still being considered a huge success. Just last year, it was valued at $5 billion.


Other Neuralink Controversies

While this problem may have been solved, Neuralink still has other issues they’ll have to deal with in the near future. The company has been in many controversies recently.

Two empty pig pens at a Neuralink facility.

Source: Leijurv/Wikimedia Commons

Regulators have begun to investigate Neuralink’s experimental practices at their animal testing labs, as they’ve claimed that there are ample recordkeeping and quality control issues at their facilities.


Arbaugh’s Statements

Even though Neuralink has some issues to deal with, Arbaugh has already claimed that the brain implant has completely “changed his life.”

A Neuralink brain statue by a tablet.

Source: Steve Jurvetson/Wikimedia Commons

However, back in March, Arbaugh did admit that he and Neuralink “have run into some issues”, possibly hinting at the threads and their retractions.