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Musk's Neuralink implants brain chip in first human

January 30, 2024

Elon Musk said the first human patient had received a brain implant and was recovering well. Neuralink said its initial goal is to enable people to control a computer cursor or keyboard using their thoughts.

https://p.dw.com/p/4bokt
Neuralink logo and an Elon Musk photo in an illustration
Neuralink's implant has 1,024 electrodes, which a robot connects to the brainImage: Dado Ruvic/REUTERS

Billionaire Elon Musk's brain-chip startup Neuralink says its first human patient has received an implant and is recovering well.

"Initial results show promising neuron spike detection," Musk said in a post on X, formerly Twitter.

Neurons are cells that use electrical and chemical signals to send information around the brain and to the body, as described by the US National Institute of Health. Spikes are activity by neurons.

Neuralink has said it aims to help patients overcome neurological conditions such as paralysis. Musk said the first product from the company would be called Telepathy.

The implant has 1,024 electrodes, which a robot connects to the brain using a fine needle. Neuralink selected patients with tetraplegia — paralysis in the legs and arms — for the clinical trial, which will run for six years.

The company received clearance last year to conduct its first trial to test implants on humans by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). It said it received approval for recruitment for the human trial in September.

New technology offers hope for the paralyzed

What does the implant do?

Neuralink said this study uses a robot to surgically place a brain-computer interface (BCI) implant in a region of the brain that controls the intention to move. The implants' "ultra-fine" threads help transmit signals in participants' brains. It could take months for the patients to learn to use these controls.

The company said its initial goal is to enable people to control a computer cursor or keyboard using their thoughts.

A report by the Reuters news agency earlier this month said Neuralink had been fined for violating US Department of Transport rules regarding the movement of hazardous materials. 

In November last year, four US lawmakers asked the Securities and Exchange Commission to investigate whether Musk had misled investors about the safety of its technology. This was after veterinary records showed monkeys with implants experienced paralysis, seizures and brain swelling.

Musk said in a post in September that no monkeys had died due to the implant, and the company had chosen "terminal" monkeys to minimize risk to healthy ones.

What's the future of brain-computer interfaces?

tg/nm (dpa, Reuters)