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Neuralink shares video of patient playing chess using signals from brain implant

On Wednesday, Elon Musk’s startup Neuralink streamed a live video of a patient using the company’s brain implant to control a mouse and play computer chess.

Noland Arbaugh, 29, is the first human patient to be implanted with Neuralink’s technology. The company is working on a brain-computer interface (BCI) that will allow patients with severe paralysis to operate external technology only through neural signals. Musk announced Neuralink’s first product, Telepathy, in a January post on his social networking site X.

Arbaugh said in a video posted on X on Wednesday that he became a quadriplegic after a diving accident almost eight years ago. He stated that the surgery to receive Neuralink’s implant, which involves patients to remove a part of their skull to inject electrodes into brain tissue, was “super easy.” He was released from the hospital the next day, he stated.

“It’s not perfect, I would say that we have run into some issues,” Arbaugh said in an interview. “I don’t want people to think that this is the end of the journey, there’s still a lot of work to be done, but it has already changed my life.”

A BCI is a system that interprets brain impulses and converts them into commands for external devices. If the device works well, persons suffering from severe degenerative diseases such as ALS may soon be able to text or navigate through social media with their brains.

Several firms, including Paradromics, Synchron, Blackrock Neurotech, and Precision Neuroscience, have created BCI systems with similar characteristics, and many have implanted them in human patients. Neuralink is well-known in the sector due to Musk’s high profile as CEO of Tesla and SpaceX.

In many ways, the capabilities shown in Neuralink’s film on Wednesday are not new. Dr. Nader Pouratian, chair of the Department of Neurological Surgery at UT Southwestern Medical Center, stated that researchers have been creating and studying BCI technology for many years.

“There are things that we’ve been able to do for decades, like control a cursor in two dimensions, which actually, for those of us who are in the field, is extremely simple to do as soon as you can get any brain signal,” he said in an interview with CNBC earlier this month.

He stated that there is a lot of excitement surrounding BCIs, but that there are a number of practical problems to overcome, such as how to read and analyze brain signals to make them usable. Pouratian believes that transparency about achievements in both academics and the broader BCI business will be critical for growth.

Neuralink began recruiting participants for its first in-human clinical trial in the fall, after FDA approval to run the study in May 2023, according to a blog post. Musk announced in January that the company had implanted its device in a human for the first time, and that the patient, now identified as Arbaugh, was “recovering well,” according to a post on X.

Aside from Musk’s posts, Neuralink has provided very little information regarding the scope and nature of the trial. As of Wednesday, the experiment was not listed on, a website where most medical device makers share details about their research to assist inform the public and other health-care professionals about their plans.

It is unclear how many patients are taking part in Neuralink’s trial, or what the trial aims to demonstrate. The company will have to go through multiple rounds of safety and efficacy testing before receiving the FDA’s final approval and entering the market.

Neuralink did not respond to CNBC’s request for comment.

Dr. Marco Baptista, chief scientific officer of the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation, which gives resources to those who have become paralyzed, has reason to be optimistic about Neuralink’s technology. He told CNBC in early March that while BCI technology could have a significant influence on patients, Neuralink’s solution, like other developing gadgets, should be viewed with caution.

He stated that he would like to see more traditional scientific papers from Neuralink in order to better understand its technology. According to PubMed, Neuralink authored one white paper in 2019.

“I’m hopeful that this information will start to come out through these mechanisms that are needed in science, and that is through peer reviewed publications,” Baptista said in a statement. “That has not happened yet. Other businesses are doing it.



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