Elon Musk’s Neuralink ‘killed 1,500 animals’ for brain chip research, report claims

Internal staff complaints claim Neuralink’s animal testing is being rushed, causing needless suffering and deaths

Anthony Cuthbertson
Tuesday 06 December 2022 17:20 GMT
Questions have been raised about the use of research animals at Elon Musk’s Neuralink startup
Questions have been raised about the use of research animals at Elon Musk’s Neuralink startup (Neuralink)

Elon Musk’s brain chip startup Neuralink is reportedly under federal investigation for potential animal welfare violations.

The medical implant firm recently demonstrated a monkey fitted with a device that allowed it to “telepathically” communicate and move a cursor across a virtual keyboard.

At Neuralink’s Show and Tell Fall 2022 event last week, Mr Musk claimed that the animals “actually enjoy” doing the demos. They get the banana smoothies, so it’s kind of a fun game,” he said. “I guess the point I’m trying to make is that we care here about animal welfare.”

His comments come in contrast to internal staff complaints at the company, first reported by Reuters, claiming that Neuralink’s animal testing is being rushed, causing needless suffering and deaths.

The company has killed about 1,500 animals, including more than 280 sheep, pigs and monkeys, following experiments since 2018, according to sources with direct knowledge of the company’s animal-testing operations.

Neuralink is developing a brain implant it hopes will help paralyzed people walk again and cure other neurological ailments. The federal probe was opened in recent months by the US Department of Agriculture’s Inspector General at the request of a federal prosecutor, according to two sources with knowledge of the investigation.

The probe, one of the sources said, focuses on violations of the Animal Welfare Act, which governs how researchers treat and test some animals.

The Independent has reached out to Neuralink for comment.

The sources characterized that figure as a rough estimate because the company does not keep precise records on the number of animals tested and killed. Neuralink has also conducted research using rats and mice.

The total number of animal deaths does not necessarily indicate that Neuralink is violating regulations or standard research practices. Many companies routinely use animals in experiments to advance human health care, and they face financial pressure to quickly bring products to market.

The animals are typically killed when experiments are completed, often so they can be examined post-mortem for research purposes.

Monkey appears to 'telepathically' type using Elon Musk's Neuralink

Musk has pushed hard to accelerate Neuralink’s progress, which depends heavily on animal testing, current and former employees said. Earlier this year, the chief executive sent staffers a news article about Swiss researchers who developed an electrical implant that helped a paralyzed man to walk again.

”We could enable people to use their hands and walk again in daily life!” he wrote to staff at 6:37 am Pacific Time on 8 February. Ten minutes later, he followed up: “In general, we are simply not moving fast enough. It is driving me nuts!”

The US Food and Drug Administration is in charge of reviewing the company’s applications for approval of its medical device and associated trials. The company’s treatment of animals during research, however, is regulated by the USDA under the Animal Welfare Act.

The FDA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Neuralink released a video on Thursday detailing the efforts it claims to be making to ensure animal care and safety.

“We are always looking for ways to reduce and replace the use of animals wherever we can,” the video stated.

“There will always be ways to improve an animal’s experience whilst in our care. It is this knowledge that will continue to push us to think of ways to maximize the well-being of every single animal who contributes to Neuralink’s mission.”

Additional reporting from agencies.

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