Elon Musk’s implant company Neuralink remains under fire after the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine sent a letter to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) referencing violations and requesting an investigation into what it called “apparent egregious violations of the Animal Welfare Act related to the treatment of monkeys used in invasive brain experiments,”
Neuralink has previously said that the goal of their research was to enable a person with paralysis to be able to use a device like a computer or a phone using only brain activity. Each coin-sized device contains micron-scale threads which are inserted into areas of the brain to act as neurons or nerve cells that control movement. Musk indicates that the implanted device is a “Fitbit for your skull with tiny wires.”
Neuralink currently acts as an experimentally inserted Bluetooth-enabled implantable chip into monkeys’ brains to test the product before trying it on humans. The experiments were carried out under contractual agreements between UC Davis and Neuralink. They have acknowledged that monkeys died as part of their testing procedures but deny allegations of animal cruelty.
The lawsuit alleges that staff at the university “removed pieces of the skulls of rhesus macaque monkeys and inserted electrodes into the animals’ brains” and that an “unapproved substance” known as BioGlue “killed monkeys by destroying portions of their brains.” Overall, many believe that the monkeys were not provided with adequate veterinary care. In Neuralink’s blog, the company acknowledged the loss of one of their monkeys by disclosing that there was “one surgical complication involving the use of the FDA-approved product (BioGlue),” and the monkey was euthanized.
On February 10, the Physicians Committee says they filed a second public records lawsuit to compel the University to release videos and photographs of the monkeys. Neuralink is not part of the lawsuit. Unfortunately, UC Davis declined to release photos and videos of the experiments, by claiming the records belong to Neuralink, a private company not subject to California’s Public Records Act.
In their statement responding to the Physicians Committee’s 700-page letter requesting an investigation, Neuralink said, that it is “absolutely committed to working with animals in the most humane and ethical way possible,” and that they are “never satisfied with the current standards for animal well-being and we will always push ourselves to do more for the animals that are contributing so much to humanity.” However, The Physicians Committee’s research advocacy coordinator, Jeremy Beckham, said in a press release that papers included in the letter to the USDA “show that monkeys’ brains were mutilated in substandard tests and were left to suffer and die.”