The First Problems With the Neuralink Brain Implant Reveal Its Weakness: Its Conductive 'Wires'

Experts hypothesize that an air pocket might have been the reason why some of the wires connecting the device to the patient got disconnected.

Neuralink brain implant
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Pablo Martínez-Juarez

According to The Wall Street Journal, the team responsible for monitoring the first patient with a Neuralink brain implant recently announced that it had discovered some issues with the wires that connect the chip to the brain.

The problem doesn’t appear to put the patient at risk.

Reduced connectivity. Neuralink, which is owned by billionaire Elon Musk, has updated the public on the progress of the first patient with its N1 brain implant. In a public report, the company explained that the patient had experienced some connectivity problems. Specifically, some of the wires connecting the chip to the cortex of the skull had gotten disconnected.

The disconnection could have reduced the device's ability to transmit information between the patient’s brain and the chip.

Pneumocephalus. According to Journal, those responsible for the study indicated that the wires may have become disconnected due to an air pocket inside the skull. This phenomenon is known as pneumoencephalus, which occasionally occurs after brain surgery, which in this case involved implanting a brain chip. These air pockets don’t usually signify a main risk and often are asymptomatic.

64 wires. The problem seems to be limited to connectivity. The N1 prototype implanted in the patient communicates with his brain through 1,024 electrodes spread over 64 wires, each thinner than a human hair. Connecting these wires to the brain is a complex task performed by a robot, the R1, also created by Neuralink. This ingenious device implants the implant in a matter of minutes.

Is there a solution? The Neuralink team is working on a solution to this problem. In any case, if we look at the transmission speed, the problem seems to have been partially compensated for during the adaptation period.

The implant team measures brain-to-implant connectivity in bits per second (BPS). During the first two weeks of the study, the patient went from an initial connection of 4.6 BPS to 8 BPS.

This reduced the connectivity to peak speeds of between 2 and 4 BPS. Between mid-March and early May, it recovered to around 8 BPS.

Chess and Mario Kart. The problem with the wires reduced connectivity, but the chip is still functional. In its update, the company released some video game screenshots, including a chess and Mario Kart party.

PRIME. The company named this first human trial PRIME. Note that this entire process is part of this test, whose main objective is to study the safety and usefulness of the treatment. In this sense, the trial seems to be progressing adequately for now.

To that end, the company wants to continue testing, which means it must expand its sample. It plans to do so for the following two implants and wants to reach 10 patients in this first year.

Image | Neuralink

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