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Despite Setback, Neuralink’s First Brain-Implant Patient Stays Upbeat

Just four months ago, Noland Arbaugh had a circle of bone removed from his skull and hair-thin sensor tentacles slipped into his brain. A computer about the size of a small stack of quarters was placed on top and the hole was sealed.

Paralyzed below the neck, Mr. Arbaugh is the first patient to take part in the clinical trial of humans testing Elon Musk’s Neuralink device, and his early progress was greeted with excitement.

Working with engineers, Mr. Arbaugh, 30, trained computer programs to translate the firing of neurons in his brain into the act of moving a cursor up, down and around. His command of the cursor was soon so agile that he could challenge his stepfather at Mario Kart and play an empire-building video game late into the night.

But as weeks passed, about 85 percent of the device’s tendrils slipped out of his brain. Neuralink’s staff had to retool the system to allow him to regain command of the cursor. Though he needed to learn a new method to click on something, he can still skate the cursor across the screen.

Neuralink advised him against a surgery to replace the threads, he said, adding that the situation had stabilized.

The setback became public earlier this month. And although the diminished activity was initially difficult and disappointing, Mr. Arbaugh said it had been worth it for Neuralink to move forward in a tech-medical field aimed at helping people regain their speech, sight or movement.

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