US authorities have launched investigations into Neuralink, a research company owned by Elon Musk, for possible violations of animal protection laws. About 1,500 animals are said to have been killed in experiments due to hasty experiments and serious mistakes.
The Neuralink company is researching brain computer chips for paralyzed people. It also conducts experiments on animals. Due to hasty, incorrect and negligent actions, however, significantly more animals were killed than was necessary. Also, not so many animals would have had to suffer. US federal authorities have therefore launched investigations into Neuralink for possible animal welfare violations, as reported by Reuters. According to the news agency, it was able to view company documents and spoke to current and former employees.
Accordingly, there have been an increasing number of complaints from several current and former employees. They state that company boss Elon Musk would put pressure on them to move faster with research. This is said to have led to insufficient preparations and incorrect procedures. For example, experiments had to be repeated, which resulted in an increased number of animals being killed.
This does not necessarily mean that Neuralink has violated any regulations. In the United States, there are no regulations on how many animals or how they can be used for research purposes. The research firm also passed all United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Inspectorate General investigations.
Around 1,500 animals killed in Neuralink experiments since 2018
In 2021, for example, 25 out of 60 sheep had the wrong size devices implanted in their heads. In two other surgeries, devices were accidentally implanted in the wrong vertebrae of two sheep, two sources and documents Reuters claims to have seen would suggest. The company vet then instructed the researchers to immediately kill one of the two sheep to put it out of its suffering.
Although Neuralink does not record the number of animals killed, it estimates that around 1,500 animals have been killed in experiments since 2018. These included more than 280 sheep, pigs and monkeys, according to documents and sources familiar with the matter. Musk and other Neuralink executives did not respond to a request for comment.
The first complaints against Neuralink about its handling of animals came when the company began working with the University of California at Davis. An animal rights group filed a complaint with the USDA alleging that research conducted jointly by Neuralink and the University of California used the wrong surgical glue twice, causing two monkeys to suffer and eventually die.
Other monkeys had other complications from the implants. It was then admitted that, on the advice of the university’s veterinary staff, six monkeys were killed due to health problems caused by the experiments. We were talking about a “complication” of using an “FDA-approved product”. When asked by Reuters, a spokesman for the university said that all laws and regulations had been observed during the research.
Neuralink executives have publicly stated that the company only conducts animal testing when other research avenues have been exhausted. Musk himself made such a statement during a presentation at the end of November. Animal testing is only used as a last resort, after other methods have been tried, it said.
Elon Musk is pressed for time
However, Neuralink is behind schedule; Founded in 2016, the company has repeatedly missed regulatory approval deadlines to start human clinical trials, company filings and interviews show. Musk, who is also Tesla and SpaceX boss, had already announced in 2019 that he would be able to carry out the first tests on people in the following year. A few years ago, the tech billionaire told employees that if his employees stopped making more progress, he would trigger a “market failure” at Neuralink.
Other companies are also working on the development of brain-computer interfaces. Synchron, also founded in 2016, has had FDA approval for human testing since 2021. Neuralink competitor has developed a device that allows paralyzed people to write texts using just their minds. According to studies on the implant, the company only killed about 80 sheep for its experiments.
In six months, Neuralinka now also wants to place its implant in a human brain, as Musk announced last week. According to his words, this should make direct communication with computers possible through thoughts. Neuralink is also currently developing implants to be placed in the spinal cord or eyes to restore mobility or vision.
The investigations against Neuralink were initiated a few months ago, but it has only now become known. The responsible authority USDA should check whether the allegations are actually valid.
Sources: Reuters, with material from AFP