Elon Musk recently claimed, “no monkey has died as a result of a Neuralink implant,” this month. However, a concerning report from Wired seems to challenge Musk’s statement. Wired, citing public documents obtained by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) highlights that Neuralink’s macaque subjects were euthanized after experiencing a range of complications, such as “bloody diarrhea, partial paralysis, and cerebral edema.”
According to the documents, a male monkey was euthanized in March 2020 “after his cranial implant became loose.” The necropsy indicated that “the failure of this implant can be considered purely mechanical and not exacerbated by infection.”
In recent updates, Neuralink has announced the commencement of in-human trials for individuals with quadriplegia.
Animal Welfare Concerns and Tragic Incidents in Neuralink Brain Implant Experiments at CNPRC
The PCRM, a non-profit advocating against using live animals in testing, obtained these documents through legal action against UC Davis, specifically the California National Primate Research Center (CNPRC), where the testing was conducted. The PCRM has posted these documents on their website and cited them in letters sent to the Securities and Exchange Commission. These letters accuse Musk of securities fraud, referencing the reported $280 million raised by Neuralink from investors for the development of a brain-computer interface. UC Davis declined to comment on the matter when contacted by Wired.
In a distressing experiment outlined in documents dated December 2019, reported by a news panel, a primate had to be euthanized due to a harrowing incident during a Neuralink brain implant procedure. A fragment of the implant broke off during surgery, causing an infection. Tragically, this led to the loss of the animal’s life.
Another macaque, identified as Animal 15, displayed concerning behaviour post-implantation. Days after receiving the implant, the primate inexplicably began pressing its head against the floor. Regrettably, the creature’s condition continued to deteriorate, underscoring the need for careful consideration and ethical practices in such scientific endeavours.
The report claimed, “Animal 15 began to lose coordination, and staff observed that she would shake uncontrollably when she saw lab workers. Her condition deteriorated for months until the staff finally euthanized her. A necropsy report indicates that she had bleeding in her brain and that the Neuralink implants left parts of her cerebral cortex ‘focally tattered’.”
Controversial Testing Practices and Animal Welfare Concerns
In defence of Neuralink’s testing procedures, Elon Musk stated that no monkeys had died due to the Neuralink implant. He also mentioned that the startup specifically chose test subjects that were close to the end of their lives to minimize risks to healthy monkeys. However, an anonymous former employee, as reported, disputed this claim by saying,”Shown a copy of Musk’s remarks on X about Neuralink’s animal subjects being “close to death already,” a former Neuralink employee alleges to WIRED the claim is “ridiculous” if not a “straight fabrication.” “We had these monkeys for a year or so before any surgery was performed.” The ex-employee, who requested anonymity for fear of retaliation, says up to a year’s worth of behavioural training was necessary for the program, a time frame that would exempt subjects already close to death’s door.
In the previous year, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) took a significant step by lodging a formal complaint with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). The essence of this complaint was to assert that Neuralink, a prominent neurotechnology company, was allegedly engaging in practices that were in violation of the Animal Welfare Act.
Moreover, Neuralink found itself in a complex legal situation as it became the subject of investigation by the United States Department of Transportation. This investigation was initiated in response to serious allegations suggesting that the company had been involved in the illegal transportation of devices which were purportedly contaminated. These devices had been previously implanted in the brains of monkeys, raising ethical concerns regarding the treatment of animals and potential violations of both environmental and transportation regulations.