Elon Musk’s Neuralink, which promises to provide a direct interface between the human brain and computers, is being investigated by the federal government for allegedly violating the Animal Welfare Act, staff complained about testing standards on animals at the company, Reuters reported Monday.
The investigation, which began a few months ago, is being conducted by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) Inspector General at the request of a federal prosecutor, Reuters reported, citing anonymous sources familiar with the investigation.
According to the report, Neuralink’s tests have killed about 1,500 animals since 2018, including around 300 sheep, pigs and monkeys, but that number is a rough estimate as the company keeps no records of animal deaths.
Several Neuralink employees claimed that the death toll was much higher than it should have been due to Musk’s effort to achieve faster results.
Citing internal communications, the report states that Musk expressed his displeasure at the company not acting fast enough and told several workers to imagine having a bomb strapped to their heads to get results faster.
At a recent “show and tell” event, the company showed a monkey with a Neuralink brain implant that “writes” characters on the screen, and other animals, such as pigs, were also used to demonstrate Neuralink’s device.
forbes reached out to Neuralink for comment.
Earlier this year, Neuralink’s practices were brought up by an animal rights group, which accused the company of “horrible abuse” of monkeys. The Physicians Responsible Medicine Committee filed a complaint with the USDA about Neuralink and the University of California, Davis, where the experiments were conducted. The group claimed that the monkeys used for the experiments “were only caged, steel posts were screwed into their skulls, suffered ‘facial trauma’, had seizures following brain implants, and suffered recurrent infections at the implant sites.” However, Neuralink disputed the complaint, saying they are committed to animal welfare. The company said its facilities and animal care programs are inspected by the USDA and “have not received any citations.” Neuralink also noted that all new medical devices and therapeutics must be tested on animals before any human trials are undertaken. Animal testing is common in the healthcare industry, and test subjects are sometimes euthanized after completion of a trial so that an autopsy can be performed to determine the effectiveness of the test. However, the use of animals in testing is regulated in the US under the Animal Welfare Act.
Last week, at Neuralink’s latest “show and tell” recruitment event, co-founder Musk said the company plans to begin human trials of the implantable brain chip within the next six months. Musk added that the company is seeking approval from the Food and Drug Administration to begin human clinical trials. Neuralink’s brain-computer interface uses thousands of tiny electrodes embedded directly in the brain to read the signals emitted by neurons and send them to a computer. The company claims its implantable chip is about a quarter the size and the same thickness as the skull it’s replacing, and it’s completely unobtrusive. According to Musk, the first real-world application for the brain chip could be to restore vision in people who are blind or restore motor function in people suffering from stroke. Despite the ambitious claims by the company and Musk, some experts remain skeptical about Neuralink’s progress and security.
Exclusive: Musk’s Neuralink faces federal investigation and employee backlash over animal testing (Reuters)
Elon Musk’s Neuralink Could Be Tested in Humans in 2023. Here’s What You Need to Know (Forbes)