Neuralink, Elon Musk’s brain implant company, is reportedly under federal investigation for potential violations of the Animal Welfare Act. An investigative report of insider documents and sources suggests that animal testing is being done too quickly, causing animals to suffer unnecessarily and causing death. The Animal Welfare Act, which regulates the treatment and use of animals in scientific research and experiments, is the primary focus of this study.
Neuralink is a neurotechnology company that aims to create brain implants to treat disease and integrate new advanced software functions into the human brain. In addition to potentially treating brain disorders such as epilepsy and Parkinson’s disease, the brain device would also act as a kind of “digital layer” that combines human gray matter with advanced technological tools. Neuralink has been testing its prototypes on animals for a few years, including pigs, sheep and monkeys. But recent reports accuse the company of cruelty to these animals.
The company has been accused of causing unnecessary suffering and death to animals under pressure from its CEO Elon Musk. According to internal documents reviewed by investigators, about 1,500 animals — including more than 280 sheep, pigs and monkeys — have died to date as a result of Neuralink tests since 2018. Neuralink has also conducted research in rats and mice. The death rate does not necessarily mean that Neuralink is violating regulations or standard research practices, as many companies routinely use animals in experiments to advance human health care.
The federal investigation is said to have been triggered by complaints filed by Neuralink’s own employees. They believe that a hasty trial order by Musk resulted in false experiments and unnecessary animal deaths, violating the 1966 American Animal Welfare Act, known as the Animal Welfare Act (AWA). The Animal Welfare Act was passed to set rules for how animals used for research should be treated. The investigation was based on discussions in the company, interviews with employees and internal documents over several years.
Investigators have identified four experiments involving 86 pigs and two monkeys that have been marred by human error in recent years. In 2021, 25 of 60 pigs participating in a study had the wrong size devices implanted in their heads, an error that could have been avoided with better preparation. One of the researchers reportedly warned that the error could be a red flag to the study’s reviewers at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), but the experiment was repeated with 36 sheep. All the animals, both pigs and sheep, were euthanized according to the procedures.
During another experiment, staff allegedly accidentally implanted the Neuralink device in the wrong vertebra of two different pigs during two separate surgeries. The company’s veterinarian then reportedly advised his colleagues to immediately euthanize one of the pigs to end his suffering. All of these errors were allegedly caused by a rushed schedule and ultimately weakened the research value of the experiments and required repeated tests, leading to more animals being killed, said three of the members, current and former employees.
Two people familiar with the matter confirmed that the USDA’s inspector general launched the previously undisclosed criminal investigation at the request of a federal prosecutor in recent months. The study comes as Musk announced earlier this month that he believed Neuralink would implant one of its devices into a human brain within the next six months. Musk had previously said he was pushing for human trials to begin in 2020, a chance he later pushed back to 2022 and then 2023. Musk is known for his controversial statements.
Given the delays in the research, Musk may have decided to push his staff to work harder to speed up Neuralink’s progress, which depends on animal testing. We could enable people to use their hands and walk again in daily life,” he wrote to staff at 6:37 a.m. PT earlier this year. Ten minutes later he added: we just don’t tend to move fast enough. It drives me crazy! . Musk – who also runs Twitter, Tesla and SpaceX – is used to imposing a “hardcore work culture” on his employees.
For example, Musk was repeatedly heard telling employees to imagine they had a bomb strapped to their head in an attempt to entice them to move forward faster. In the past, Neuralink has boasted about the quality of treatment its animals receive compared to other research facilities. Company executives have expressed their desire to build a “Monkey Disneyland” at the company’s Austin, Texas facility, and Musk has told employees that he wants the monkeys at his Bay Area to San Francisco facility to live in a “Taj Mahal of monkeys “.
Since the company does not keep accurate statistics on the number of animals tested and killed, investigators described the 1,500 figure as a rough estimate. It is also not the first time that Musk’s brain implant company has come under criticism over animal welfare. After partnering with the University of California Davis, an animal rights group, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, filed a complaint with the USDA accusing the Neuralink-UC Davis project of having bcl experiments that killed monkeys.
The group claimed that the surgeons used the wrong surgical glue twice, which led to two monkeys suffering and eventually dying, while other monkeys had complications other than the implants. At the time, the company said the deaths of six monkeys were due to a glue problem, a “complication” of using an “FDA-approved product.” Neuralink currently uses sheep, pigs, rats, mice and monkeys for its tests and has not been granted permission to conduct human trials. Critics hope Musk won’t get that permission anytime soon.
Source: Federal investigation opened by the inspector general of the US Department of Agriculture
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