Elon Musk Faces Federal Probe Over Neuralink Monkey Tests

The overall number of animals killed does not necessarily mean that Neuralink is doing its study in violation of laws or best practices. Nevertheless, Elon Musk faces a federal probe over the Neuralink monkey tests.

Elon Musk Faces Federal Probe Over Neuralink Monkey Tests

According to documents analyzed by Reuters and sources familiar with the inquiry and company operations, Elon Musk’s Neuralink, a medical device company, is under federal investigation for possible animal-welfare violations as a result of internal staff complaints that its animal testing is being rushed, resulting in needless suffering and deaths.

Neuralink Corp is working on a brain implant that it hopes will restore movement to paraplegic individuals and treat other neurological conditions. According to two persons familiar with the inquiry, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Inspector General recently started the federal investigation, which had not previously been revealed, at the request of a federal prosecutor. One of the individuals claimed that the investigation focused on infractions of the Animal Welfare Act, which regulates how some animals are used in research and testing.

According to a Reuters review of dozens of Neuralink documents and interviews with more than 20 current and former employees, the investigation has been launched at a time of rising employee discontent regarding Neuralink’s animal testing, including complaints that pressure from CEO Musk to accelerate development has led to botched experiments. The employees claim that because such unsuccessful experiments had to be redone, more animals were used in testing and died as a result. The company’s records include emails, reports, presentations, audio recordings, communications, and previously undisclosed messages.

The extent of the federal probe and whether it focused on the same alleged issues with animal experimentation mentioned by employees in Reuters interviews were both unknowns to Reuters. The inspector general of the USDA’s office declined to comment. The number of animals that corporations can use for research is not regulated in the United States, and scientists are given a great deal of discretion in deciding when and how to utilize animals in trials. According to regulatory documents, Neuralink has passed every USDA inspection of its facilities.

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According to documents seen by Reuters and sources with firsthand knowledge of the organization’s animal-testing procedures, since 2018, the company has killed over 1,500 animals, including more than 280 sheep, pigs, and monkeys. The company does not keep exact data on the number of animals tested and killed, according to the sources, who described the number as an approximate estimate. Neuralink has also used mice and rats in their research.

The overall number of animals killed does not necessarily mean that Neuralink is doing its study in violation of laws or best practices. Numerous businesses routinely employ animals in research to better human health care, and they are under financial pressure to launch treatments as soon as possible. When tests are finished, the animals are usually put to death, frequently so that they can be dissected for study purposes after death.

However, present and former Neuralink staff claim that because of Musk’s demands for accelerated research, more animals are dying than is necessary. Employee interviews and business talks spanning years helped Reuters identify four research involving 86 pigs and two monkeys that were compromised by errors in recent years. Three current and former employees claimed that the errors reduced the research value of the tests and necessitated their repetition, which killed additional animals. The three individuals blamed the errors on a testing team’s lack of preparation while operating in a pressure-cooker setting.

One employee, seen by Reuters, wrote a scathing note to colleagues earlier this year about the need to change how the business organizes animal surgery to prevent “hack jobs.” According to the employee, the rushed timetable resulted in under-prepared and over-stressed personnel racing to meet deadlines and making last-minute alterations before surgery, putting the animals at risk.

According to current and former employees, Musk has pushed hard to speed Neuralink’s advancement, which is primarily reliant on animal research. Earlier this year, the CEO forwarded a news piece about Swiss researchers who created an electronic device that enabled a crippled 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 a.m. Pacific Time on Feb. 8. Ten minutes later, he followed up: “In general, we are simply not moving fast enough. It is driving me nuts!”

Musk has urged employees on multiple occasions over the years to imagine they have a bomb strapped to their heads in order to push them to move quicker, according to three sources who have regularly heard the comment. Musk informed employees a few years ago that unless they showed more progress, he would cause a “market failure” at Neuralink, which some employees misinterpreted as a threat to close down operations, according to a former staffer who heard his comment.

Five individuals who worked on Neuralink’s animal tests told Reuters they had voiced concerns internally. They claimed to have campaigned for a more conventional test procedure in which scientists would test one element at a time in an animal study and derive pertinent findings before proceeding to other animal experiments. Instead, according to these sources, Neuralink runs tests in rapid succession before addressing faults in previous tests or giving final conclusions. As a result, more animals are tested and killed in total, partly because the approach drives to repeated tests.

According to one former employee, when they urged management for more careful testing several years ago, they were told by a top executive that it was not possible due to Musk’s expectations for speed. According to Reuters, two employees left the company due to worries about animal experimentation.

According to three current or former employees, the flaws with Neuralink’s testing have sparked internal concerns about the quality of the ensuing data. Such issues might jeopardize the business’s effort to begin human testing, which Musk has stated the company hopes to undertake within the next six months. They also add to Musk’s expanding list of problems, including criticism of his management of Twitter, which he recently purchased for $44 billion. Musk also continues to operate Tesla Inc. and SpaceX.

The Food and Drug Administration in the United States is responsible for examining the company’s applications for approval of its medical device and accompanying trials. The USDA, on the other hand, regulates the company’s treatment of animals during research under the Animal Welfare Act.

Missed Deadlines, Botched Experiments

Musk’s frustration with Neuralink has risen as the business, which debuted in 2016, has repeatedly missed his deadlines to obtain regulatory approval to begin human clinical trials, according to company records and interviews with eight current and former workers.

Some of Neuralink’s competitors are doing better. Synchron, which was founded in 2016 and is working on a separate implant with less aggressive medical advancement ambitions, has gotten FDA approval to begin human trials in 2021. The company’s gadget has enabled paralyzed individuals to text and type simply by thinking. According to studies of the Synchron implant published by Reuters, Synchron has also undertaken animal tests, but it has only killed roughly 80 sheep as part of its research. According to Reuters, Musk approached Synchron about a prospective investment in August.

Employees indicated in interviews that Neuralink treats animals fairly well in comparison to other research centers, mirroring public claims by Musk and other executives. According to a former employee, corporate management have boasted internally about creating a “Monkey Disneyland” in the company’s Austin, Texas campus where lab animals freely roam. According to a former employee who overheard Musk’s remark, Musk once told employees that he wanted the monkeys at his San Francisco Bay Area facility to live in a “monkey Taj Mahal.” Another former employee reported Musk adding that while he detested using animals for research, he wanted to ensure that they were “the happiest animals” while they were alive.

However, present and former employees claim that when the animals were utilized in the company’s study, they fared less well.

The company’s initial collaboration with University of California, Davis to carry out the experiments led to the first criticisms of its testing. The Neuralink-UC Davis initiative was allegedly responsible for performing botched operations on monkeys, according to a USDA complaint made in February by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. The group said that while other animals experienced various implant-related issues, two suffered and finally died as a result of physicians using the incorrect surgical adhesive twice.

According to the company, six monkeys were put to death on the suggestion of the veterinary personnel at UC Davis due to health issues brought on by the studies. It described the adhesive problem as a “complication” brought on by using a “FDA-approved product.” A UC Davis representative provided a previous public statement defending its research with Neuralink and asserting that it complied with all rules and regulations in response to a Reuters enquiry.

Per a source with firsthand knowledge of the inquiry, a federal prosecutor in the Northern District of California forwarded the animal rights organization’s complaint to the USDA Inspector General, who has since opened a formal investigation. According to two sources familiar with the situation and emails and messages examined by Reuters, USDA investigators then enquired about the claims surrounding the UC Davis monkey research.

One of the sources stated without going into further detail that the investigation relates to the testing and care of animals at Neuralink’s own facilities. Neuralink brought the initiative in-house in 2020 and has since constructed its substantial facilities in Texas and California.

It is “very unusual,” according to Delcianna Winders, head of the Vermont Law and Graduate School’s Animal Law and Policy Institute, for the USDA inspector general to look into animal research institutions. Winders, an opponent of animal experimentation who has condemned Neuralink, claimed that when enforcing the Animal Welfare Act in recent years, the inspector general has mostly concentrated on dog fighting and cockfighting activities.

‘It’s Hard On The Little Piggies’

One example of a blunder resulting in unnecessary animal deaths occurred in 2021, when 25 of 60 pigs in a study had devices implanted in their heads that were the wrong size, an error which could have been prevented with more preparation, according to an individual with understanding of the incident and company documents and communications reviewed by Reuters.

The error sparked concerns among Neuralink’s researchers. In May 2021, scientist Viktor Kharazia wrote to colleagues that the error may raise a “red flag” for FDA reviewers of the study, which the business planned to submit as part of its application to commence human trials. According to the individual with knowledge of the issue, his colleagues agreed, and the experiment was repeated with 36 sheep. According to the person, all of the animals, including pigs and sheep, were killed following the procedures.

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1 COMMENT

  1. Musk is exposing too much intel and gov. malfeasance so they will grasp at anything to put him away .Would a parking ticket be enough for them , stay tuned.

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