Neuralink: Elon Musk's brain implant firm refutes animal abuse claims

Neuralink defends its treatment of the monkeys it used to test its brain-machine interface implants.
Written by Liam Tung, Contributing Writer
Image: Neuralink

Neuralink, Tesla CEO Elon Musk's firm investigating brain-machine interface implants, has issued a statement responding to claims of cruelty in tests. 

Neuralink said in a blog post that it is "committed to working with animals in the most humane and ethical way possible." It also offered a timeline of its animal testing activities since 2017, covering a 2.5-year partnership with the University of California, Davis, and from 2020, when the company opened its own in-house vivarium.

Neuralink is responding to allegations by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM), which filed a complaint last week with the US Department of Agriculture for alleged violations of the federal Animal Welfare Act. PCRM claims Neuralink and its lab partner, UC Davis, had conducted deadly and cruel brain experiments on 23 monkeys.

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The non-profit Physicians Committee is against the use of animals in medical research. According to PCRM, Neuralink paid UC Davis $1.4 million to run the experiments with the monkeys.

In December, Musk, who formed Neuralink in 2016, said he hoped Neuralink could begin testing the brain-computer interface on humans in 2022, having originally hoped to begin human testing in 2020. Last year, Neuralink showed off a monkey called Pager at its own vivarium with a Neuralink implant using a joystick to play a game of Pong.

Business Insider quoted Musk in December saying: "Neuralink's working well in monkeys, and we're doing just a lot of testing and just confirming that it's very safe and reliable, and the Neuralink device can be removed safely."   

The complaint centers on the care provided to test monkeys during and after implant and removal procedures at UC Davis.

PCRM alleges that Neuralink and UC Davis staff failed to provide monkeys with adequate veterinary care, used an unapproved substance called BioGlue that killed monkeys in the experiments, and euthanized several monkeys.

Details of the monkeys' conditions were revealed in documents released by the university after PCRM filed a public records lawsuit in 2021.

Neuralink says that during the 2.5 years at UC Davis, its tests were only conducted on cadavers or "terminal procedures", which involved the "humane euthanasia of an anesthetized animal at the completion of the surgery."

"The initial work from these procedures allowed us to develop our novel surgical and robot procedures, establishing safer protocols for subsequent survival surgeries," the company says.

During survival studies, Neuralink says two animals were euthanized at planned dates and six animals were euthanized at the medical advice of UC Davis veterinary staff.

"These reasons included one surgical complication involving the use of the FDA-approved product (BioGlue), one device failure, and four suspected device-associated infections, a risk inherent with any percutaneous medical device. In response we developed new surgical protocols and a fully implanted device design for future surgeries," Neuralink says. 

Neuralink notes that it engaged local USDA inspectors to ensure that its own vivarium met and exceeded requirements of the Animal Welfare Act. 

PCRM's second public records lawsuit requests that the university release videos and photographs of the monkeys.

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