Here’s How Neuralink Is Modifying Its Brain Chip for Second Human Patient

As Neuralink prepares to install its brain chip into a second human patient, the company has come up with several ways to ensure the implant remains in place. This includes inserting the chip’s electrodes deeper into the subject’s brain.The surgery should occur “in the next week or so,” Neuralink founder Elon Musk said during a Wednesday presentation. The sci-fi-like technology promises to help people with physical disabilities control their PCs or smartphones by converting their brain signals into Bluetooth-based commands. But one challenge facing Neuralink is the chip’s thread-based electrodes, which attach to the patient’s brain and are used to detect their neural activity.

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In March, Neuralink’s first human patient, Noland Arbaugh, demonstrated the brain chip in action by using it to control his laptop and play games such as Civilization VI. But weeks after his surgery, 85% of the thread-based electrodes became displaced from his brain. Although Arbaugh can still use his brain chip at high levels, Neuralink wants to ensure the threads remain in place for future human trials. One reason for the slippage is an air pocket forming inside the brain during surgery, the company said today.

(Credit: Neuralink )

“During any typical brain surgery, a small amount of air is introduced into the skull. That’s because neurosurgeons like to have as much room as possible around the brain,” said the company’s head neurosurgeon, Matthew MacDougall. “That air pocket, we think, may have contributed to eating up some of the threads’ slack as the air bubble migrated to be under the implant, pushing the brain away from the implant,” he explained. In response, the company wants to keep the next patient’s carbon dioxide levels in a normal range during surgery to prevent the brain from expanding or shrinking. The company plans on better “sculpting” the implant to prevent a gap from appearing under the skull. “That will put the implant closer to the brain, and eliminate some of the tension on the threads.” MacDougall said.

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(Credit: Neuralink )

(Credit: Neuralink )

“The depth of the bottom of the implant is actually thinner than the average human skull,” he added. “We didn’t do this in the first human participant because we didn’t want to manipulate any of their tissue that we didn’t absolutely have to.”The other major change is that Neuralink plans on inserting the thread-based electrodes a few millimeters deeper into the subject’s brain. This means even if the threads partially retract, the electrodes should still be deep enough in the brain to remain useful and detect neural activity.

(Credit: Neuralink )

The second human patient wasn’t identified. But during a Q&A with Twitter/X users, Musk said the company hopes to install the brain chip in more than two patients this year to potentially “high single digits.” Depending on regulatory approval, Neuralink envisions expanding the chip to thousands of patients within a few years.

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