Animal programs

Musk’s Neuralink challenges accusations of animal abuse in brain implant experiments

Neuralink, the brain-computer interface startup run by Elon Musk, released a statement on Monday against allegations that its animal testing practices are inhumane and have led to the “horrible abuse” and death of several monkeys. macaques.

The allegations first emerged last week when the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) filed a federal complaint with the US Department of Agriculture regarding the treatment of monkeys at the University of California (UC) , Davis as part of the Neuralink experiments. PCRM is a non-profit organization that focuses on fighting animal cruelty and promoting alternatives to animal testing.

Neuralink, meanwhile, is developing a device that Musk described as “a Fitbit in your skull,” with the ability to measure an individual’s movements, body temperature and other information, then transmit the data wirelessly. collected to a mobile device. The system received breakthrough designation from the FDA in 2020 and aims to enter human trials this year.

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The non-profit group said that when testing its brain device implanted in 23 monkeys at the university, Neuralink abused the animals by refusing to provide necessary physical and mental care, using an “unapproved substance” to performing the tests and, in some cases, euthanizing the monkeys. “before they are even used in the intended experiment.”

PCRM’s claims are based on files obtained through public records requests comprising nearly 600 pages of what the organization called “troubling documents”. He has since filed a second request to collect videos and photos of the monkeys from the university.

“Documents reveal monkeys had their brains mutilated in shoddy experiments and left to suffer and die. It’s no mystery why Elon Musk and the university want to keep the photos and videos of this horrific abuse hidden from the public,” PCRM research coordinator Jeremy Beckham said in a statement.

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In response, Neuralink shared a blog post on Monday outlining its approach to animal testing and directly challenging PCRM’s claims.

For starters, the company aimed to reframe euthanasia, noting that when its animal experimentation program was originally housed at UC Davis, it used only cadavers and terminal procedures, designating animals that “have been judged by veterinary staff as healthy enough for an anesthetic event, but may not have a good quality of life due to a pre-existing condition.

This resulted in two scheduled euthanasias and six others that were linked to complications with the experiments. Among the latter category was a “surgical complication” involving the surgical adhesive BioGlue, which PCRM said had resulted in multiple fatalities and was “not approved” by regulators, but was in fact approved by the FDA. as a surgical adhesive since 2001.

Neuralink said the deaths led the company to develop “new surgical protocols and fully implanted device design for future surgeries.”

Regarding claims that Neuralink failed to provide adequate veterinary care or prioritize the psychological well-being of monkeys, the company said all of its tests were closely monitored by UC Davis veterinary staff. and approved by the university’s Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee.

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Additionally, after moving campus experiments to Neuralink’s own facilities, the company said it was committed to “designing an animal care program that puts the needs of animals first.”

This includes a 6,000 square foot vivarium for monkeys and pigs that includes more living space than required by the federal government, 24-hour care, a “healthier and more naturalistic diet” for animals, an emphasis on practical socialization and motivation that does not involve withholding food and water. Neuralink is also currently planning another facility that allows for even more “animal agency,” the company said.

“We also look forward to the day when animals are no longer needed for medical research. … However, if animals are to be used in research in the interim, their lives and experiences should be as vital and naturalistic as possible,” the company wrote in the blog post.