In January 2024 Elon Musk’s tech company, Neuralink, was cleared to test its new brain-chip device in human participants. 


Noland Arbaugh was the first human to have the brain-chip implanted into his brain and the procedure took place earlier this year. Noland is a 29-year-old quadriplegic male, who suffered a life-changing spinal injury after a diving accident in 2016. A short 2 months on from the procedure, we are now seeing the potential impact this technology may have on seriously injured patients. 


The computer interface device entitled ‘Telepathy’ is surgically implanted by a robot in a region of the brain that controls the intention to move. The idea behind the implant is that patients with ‘unmet medical needs’ will have their autonomy restored through the ability to control a computer cursor or mobile device using just their thoughts. 


Neuralink are said to currently be focusing the device on those suffering with quadriplegia. We would hope that as this technology develops, it will be of particular benefit to patients injured whilst playing sport or in road traffic accidents. Many of these patients often have a number of years of life ahead of them and technology such as this could go a long way in improving quality of life. 


So far, so good. Noland states that the surgery to implant the chip was straightforward, and he is currently reporting no cognitive impairments or ill effect. A video was released this week showing Noland playing a game of chess on his laptop, using only his thoughts to control cursor movements and clicks, something he has not been able to do previously. Noland has also been able to play a video game he enjoyed pre-accident for 8 hours straight via the implant. 


Whilst Noland says the Telepathy chip has already changed his life, it is still very early days post-implantation and the full impact of the technology on seriously injured patients in their practical, day-to-day life, remains to be seen. For now, however, this is a positive development in affording patients’ further autonomy and restoring amenity to everyday life.

Author: Natasha Boyd, Trainee Solicitor