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Neuralink knew of wire issues yet launched human trials: Report

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Neuralink, despite knowing about potential wire retraction issues from extensive animal testing, proceeded with its first human trial. This decision has now positioned Elon Musk’s brain-machine interface company in a challenging predicament, as recent revelations indicate that the wires inside the brain implant have retracted.

This development raises serious concerns about the implant’s reliability and patient safety, highlighting the intricate balance between pushing technological boundaries and ensuring medical safety in neurotechnology.

First reported by Reuters, citing sources familiar with the matter, these tests indicated a possibility of wire retraction, which could lead to removing critical electrodes essential for decoding brain signals. Despite this awareness, Neuralink proceeded with its implant design, assessing the risk of wire retraction as sufficiently low to forego a redesign.

The implant’s purpose aims to grant paralysed individuals who suffered a spinal cord injury the ability to interact with technology solely through mental commands. However, the recent wire retraction incident has raised concerns about the implant’s reliability and safety.

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In response to this setback, Neuralink has adjusted its algorithm to improve sensitivity, restoring the implant’s ability to monitor brain signals. Nevertheless, the company’s lack of disclosure regarding the extent of wire retraction and its potential impact on patient well-being has left many inquiries unanswered.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) was aware of wire retraction during Neuralink’s application for human trials. However, the FDA has refrained from commenting on the issue’s significance. Nonetheless, the FDA has committed to closely monitoring patient safety throughout Neuralink’s ongoing study.

Neuralink now faces a dual challenge: ensuring the implant’s reliability in subsequent trials and addressing potential safety concerns associated with wire retraction and possible brain tissue damage. While redesigning the implant threads is a possibility, it introduced its own risks, underscoring the delicate balance of innovation and patient safety in medical device development.

In September 2023, an ethics group pleaded with the US Securities and Exchange Commission to investigate Neuralink concerning the death of at least 12 primates.

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Kumar Hemant

Kumar Hemant

Deputy Editor at Candid.Technology. Hemant writes at the intersection of tech and culture and has a keen interest in science, social issues and international relations. You can contact him here: