Neuralink Seeks New Human Trial Participant for Revolutionary Brain Implant

Elon Musk’s brain implant startup, Neuralink, is seeking applications for a second human trial participant to test its innovative device.

by Faruk Imamovic
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Neuralink Seeks New Human Trial Participant for Revolutionary Brain Implant
© Getty Images/Apu Gomes

Elon Musk’s brain implant startup, Neuralink, is seeking applications for a second human trial participant to test its innovative device. This announcement was made by Musk on X (formerly Twitter) last Friday. This request follows the initial trial, which began five months ago with 30-year-old Noland Arbaugh as the first participant. Arbaugh, who has been a quadriplegic since a diving accident in 2016, received a brain chip implant from Neuralink.

Early Trials and Unexpected Challenges

Arbaugh’s implant has allowed him to control a computer cursor with his brain, significantly improving his quality of life. “I didn’t have anything to wake up for in the morning, and this has changed that for me,” Arbaugh shared in an interview with Good Morning America. “I was just very happy that I would be a part of something that I believe is so monumental. This is the next step forward of helping people with paralysis.”

However, the journey has not been without challenges. Neuralink recently admitted that Arbaugh’s implant experienced an unexpected problem. The threads connecting the chip to his brain retracted, causing performance issues. Although adjustments were made to improve the device’s function, the incident highlighted the experimental nature of the technology. Arbaugh expressed his disappointment, saying he “cried afterwards” when the issue affected his ability to use the device effectively. “It was very, very hard to give up all of the amazing things that I was able to do,” he said.

Neuralink co-founder DJ Seo explained the importance of these trials: “The reason we do clinical trials and early feasibility trials is to uncover these sorts of issues as early as possible before they get marketed. We rolled up our sleeves and found various different ways for Noland to be able to recover his performance, which we have successfully been able to do.”

Expanding the Trials and Future Ambitions

Neuralink is now looking for more participants like Arbaugh to join its clinical trials. “If you have quadriplegia and want to explore new ways of controlling your computer, we invite you to participate in our clinical trial,” the company announced on X. The current trial is part of what Neuralink calls the PRIME Study, which stands for Precise Robotically Implanted Brain-Computer Interface. The study aims to assess the safety of the implant and the surgical robot, as well as test the functionality of the device.

The company is enrolling patients with limited or no ability to use their hands due to cervical spinal cord injury or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). The trial involves surgically placing chips in the part of the brain that controls the intention to move. These chips record and send brain signals to an app, with the initial goal being to enable participants to control a computer cursor or keyboard using their thoughts alone.

About a month after his operation, Arbaugh could control a computer mouse with his brain. Neuralink later posted a video showing him using only his brain to play chess on a computer. Despite the setback with his device, Arbaugh remains a testament to the potential impact of Neuralink’s technology.

However, widespread access to this technology is not imminent. Neuralink’s brain implants will require broader regulatory approval before they can be marketed to the general public. The company’s ongoing trials and adjustments are crucial steps in this process, aiming to ensure the safety and effectiveness of the implants.

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