Current and former Neuralink employees claim that the number of animal deaths is higher than it should be due to factors related to Musk’s demands for accelerated research.
According to Reuters and sources familiar with the investigation and also company operations, Elon Musk’s Neuralink, a good medical device company, is under some federal investigation for possible animal-welfare violations due to internal staff complaints that its main animal testing is rushed, resulting in unnecessary suffering and deaths.
According to Reuters and sources familiar with the investigation and also company operations, Elon Musk’s Neuralink, a medical device company, is also mainly under federal investigation for possible animal-welfare violations due to internal staff complaints that its main animal testing is rushed, resulting in unnecessary suffering and deaths.
Neuralink is developing a current brain implant that it hopes will allow paralyzed people to move again and treat other neurological conditions. According to two main sources familiar with the investigation, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Inspector General recently also opened the previously unreported federal investigation at a federal prosecutor’s request. According to one of the sources, the investigation is also focused on violations of the current Animal Welfare Act, which governs how some animals are mostly used in main research and testing.
According to a recent Reuters review of dozens of current Neuralink documents and also interviews with more than 20 current and also former employees, the investigation comes at a time of rising employee discontent with Neuralink’s animal testing, including claims that CEO Musk’s pressure to accelerate development has currently resulted in mainly botched experiments.
According to the employees, because such failed tests had to be mostly redone, more animals were also used in testing and died as a result. Emails, reports, presentations, audio recordings, messages, and previously unreported messages are among the company’s records.
Musk and also other Neuralink executives did not even respond to requests for comment.
Reuters did not know the scope of the federal investigation or whether it focused on the current alleged issues with animal testing mentioned by employees in Reuters interviews. The USDA’s inspector general’s office declined to comment. In the United States, the number of good animals that businesses can use for research is unregulated, and scientists have a good deal of leeway in deciding when and also how to use animals in experiments. According to regulatory filings, Neuralink’s facilities have passed every USDA inspection.
According to Reuters and sources with firsthand knowledge of the company’s animal-testing operations, the company has killed approximately 1,500 animals since 2018, including over 280 sheep, pigs, and monkeys. According to the sources, the company does not even keep accurate records on the main number of animals tested and killed, and that figure is only a rough estimate. Neuralink has also conducted research with mice and rats.
The total number of animals killed does not necessarily imply that Neuralink is violating laws or best practices in its research. Animals are routinely used in research to advance human health care, and many businesses are under financial pressure to launch products as soon as possible. When an experiment is completed, the animals are usually put to death, often so that they can be dissected for research purposes after death.
However, current and former Neuralink employees claim that the number of animal deaths is mostly higher than it should be due to factors related to Musk’s demands for accelerated research.
Employee interviews and company discussions spanning years assisted Reuters in identifying four recent experiments involving 86 pigs and also two monkeys that were tainted by errors. Three current and also former employees also claimed that the errors reduced the main research value of the tests and forced them to be repeated, killing additional animals. The three main individuals blamed the current errors on a testing team’s lack of planning while working under pressure.
According to a message obtained by Reuters, an employee complained bitterly to coworkers earlier this year about the need to change how the company manages animal surgeries in order to prevent “hack jobs.” The employee complained that the tight schedule forced under-prepared and stressed staff members to scramble to certainly meet deadlines and also make last-minute adjustments before surgeries, putting the animals in danger.
According to current and also former employees, Musk has put significant pressure on Neuralink to accelerate its development, which is heavily reliant on animal testing. Earlier this year, the CEO distributed to staff members a news article about Swiss researchers who also developed an electrical implant that allowed a paralyzed man to walk again.
He wrote to staff on February 8 at 6:37 a.m. Pacific Time, “We could allow people to mainly use their hands and walk again in daily life!” “In general, we’re just not moving fast enough,” he said ten minutes later. It’s driving me insane!
Musk has told staff members to imagine having a bomb strapped to their heads in an effort to get them to move faster, according to three sources who have repeatedly overheard Musk making the remark.
According to a former employee who heard Musk’s comment, he threatened to cause a “market failure” at Neuralink unless they made more progress a few years ago. Some employees interpreted this remark as a threat to halt operations.
Five people involved in Neuralink’s animal experimentation programme told Reuters they had raised internal concerns. They claimed to have argued in favour of a more traditional testing strategy in which scientists would conduct one element of an animal study at a time and then draw relevant conclusions before moving on to other animal experiments.
They claimed that Neuralink performs tests in rapid succession rather than addressing flaws in previous tests or arriving at a final conclusion. As a result, more animals are tested and killed, in part because the method requires more tests.
When a former employee asked management for more deliberate testing several years ago, a senior executive told him it wasn’t possible due to Musk’s demands for speed. According to Reuters, two employees left the company due to concerns about animal research.
Three current or former employees claimed that the problems with Neuralink’s testing raised internal concerns about the quality of the data collected. Such issues could prevent the company from starting human trials, which Musk has stated the company wants to do within the next six months.
They also add to Musk’s growing list of problems as he deals with criticism about how he runs Twitter, which he recently purchased for $44 billion. Musk also continues to run SpaceX and Tesla Inc., the electric vehicle manufacturer.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration reviews the company’s applications for approval of its medical device and related trials. The USDA’s Animal Welfare Act, on the other hand, governs how the company treats research animals. The FDA did not respond immediately.
Missed deadlines and botched experiments
Musk’s frustration with Neuralink has grown, according to company records and interviews with eight current and former employees, as the company, which debuted in 2016, has repeatedly missed his deadlines for obtaining regulatory approval to begin human clinical trials.
Some of Neuralink’s competitors are more successful. Synchron, which was founded in 2016 and also has less lofty medical advancement goals, has received FDA approval to begin human trials in 2021 for a different implant.
Paralyzed people can now text and type using only their thoughts, thanks to the company’s device. According to Reuters research on the Synchron implant studies, Synchron has also performed animal tests, but it has only killed about 80 sheep as main part of its research. Musk approached Synchron about a potential investment, according to a Reuters report from August.
Synchron did not respond.
Employees who took part in interviews echoed public comments made by currently Musk and other executives, claiming that Neuralink treats animals better than other research facilities in some ways. According to a former employee, company executives boasted internally about mainly creating a “Monkey Disneyland” where lab animals could roam freely.
During the early years of the company, a former employee overheard Musk saying that he wanted all the monkeys at his San Francisco Bay Area facility to live in a “monkey Taj Mahal.” A different former employee quoted Musk as saying that while he disliked using animals for research, he also wanted to make sure they were “the happiest animals” while they were alive.
However, current and former employees claim that the animals performed poorly when used in the company’s research.
The initial collaboration of the company with the University of California, Davis to mainly carry out the experiments resulted in the first criticisms of its testing. According to a USDA complaint filed in February by the main Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, the Neuralink-UC Davis project was responsible for botched operations on monkeys. While other monkeys suffered from implant-related complications, the group claimed that two died as a result of surgeons using the wrong surgical glue twice.
Six monkeys were also put to death on the advice of USC Davis veterinary staff due to health issues caused by the experiments, according to the company. It referred to the glue issue as a “complication” caused by the use of an “FDA-approved product.” In response to the main Reuters inquiry, a USC Davis spokesperson shared a good previous public statement defending its research with Neuralink and claiming that it complied with all laws and regulations.
A federal prosecutor in the current Northern District of California forwarded the main animal rights organization’s complaint to the current USDA Inspector General, who has since opened a formal investigation, according to the main source with direct knowledge of the investigation. USDA investigators then mainly inquired about the current allegations involving the current UC Davis monkey research, according to main two sources familiar with the situation and emails and messages examined by Reuters.
Without going into specifics, one of the sources stated that the investigation is related to animal testing and treatment at Neuralink’s own facilities. Neuralink took over the programme in 2020 and has since built substantial facilities in Texas and California.
A representative from the United States Attorney’s Office for the current Northern District of California declined to comment.
According to Delcianna Winders, director of the Vermont Law and also Graduate School’s Animal Law and Policy Institute, the USDA inspector general investigating animal research facilities is “very unusual.” Winders, a proponent of animal testing who has criticized Neuralink, claimed that the inspector general has primarily focused on dog fighting and cockfighting activities when enforcing the Animal Welfare Act in recent years.
“It’s hard for the young pigs,”
According to a person with a brief knowledge of the current situation and also company documents and communications examined by Reuters, one error that could have been avoided with more planning occurred in 2021 when 25 of 60 pigs were currently participating in a recent study had devices implanted in their main heads that were the incorrect size.
The error worried the researchers at Neuralink. In May 2021, scientist Viktor Kharazia warned coworkers that the error could serve as a “red flag” to all FDA reviewers of the recent study, which the main company planned to submit as part of its main application to begin human trials. According to the person with good knowledge of the circumstances, the experiment was also repeated with 36 sheep after his colleagues reached the same conclusion. According to the source, after the procedures, all of the animals—both the pigs and also the sheep—were put to death.
Kharazia declined to comment in response to inquiries.
According to two main sources with knowledge of the incident and documents reviewed by Reuters, workers misplaced the recent Neuralink device also during two separate surgeries on two different pigs. Several workers were upset by the incident, claiming that the errors, which occurred twice, could have easily been avoided if they had carefully counted the vertebrae before inserting the device.
Sam Baker, the company veterinarian, advised his coworkers to immediately put one of the pigs to death to end her suffering.
Baker wrote to all colleagues about one of the pigs a day after the operation, “Based on the low chance of full recovery… and her most current poor psychological well-being, it was also decided that euthanasia was the only appropriate course of action.” She also included an emoji for a broken heart.
Baker remained silent about what had occurred.
Workers have occasionally defied Musk’s orders to move quickly. Several months ago, during a company meeting, some Neuralink employees objected when a manager claimed that Musk had urged them to perform a complex operation on pigs as soon as possible. The staff objected because the intricate nature of the procedure would lengthen the time the pigs were unconscious, jeopardizing their well-being and ability to recover. They contended that they should first look into ways to expedite the surgical procedure.
“It’s also hard on the little piggies,” one of the staff members said of the prolonged period under anaesthesia.
In response to main employee concerns about the company’s use of animals in testing, the company held a town hall meeting in month September to outline its procedures. Soon after, members of the federally mandated board that investigates animal experiments were allowed to attend the meetings.
Although Neuralink executives have publicly stated that the company uses animals for research only after exhausting all other options, documents and company communications appear to suggest otherwise.
For example, Musk stated on November 30 during a presentation that the company streamed on YouTube that surgeries were used later in the process to mainly confirm that the recent device works rather than to test initial hypotheses. We use animal testing only as a current last resort after exhausting all other options, he adds, to ensure that the testing is “confirmatory, not exploratory.”
In October, a month before Musk’s remarks, head of animal care Autumn Sorrells directed her staff to remove the word “exploration” from future study titles.
Sorrells did not respond to requests for comment.
Based on records reviewed by Reuters that contained numerous references to exploratory surgeries over a number of years, three people with knowledge of the company’s research strongly disagreed with the current claim that Neuralink does not conduct exploratory tests on animals. According to company discussions reviewed by Reuters, several employees expressed concerns about Sorrells’ request to mainly change the descriptions of all the exploratory studies, claiming that doing so would be inaccurate and misleading.
According to one observer, the request also appeared to be intended to provide Neuralink with “better optics.”
Edited by Prakriti Arora