After using 1500 animals in testing, Musk’s Neuralink is under federal investigation. According to documents viewed by Reuters and sources familiar with the investigation 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, leading to 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 sources with knowledge of the probe, the US Department of Agriculture’s inspector general recently started the federal investigation, which had not previously been published, at a federal prosecutor’s request.
One of the individuals claimed that the investigation focused on infractions of the Animal Welfare Act, which controls how researchers handle it.
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 unknown to Reuters. The inspector general of the USDA’s office declined to comment. The number of animals businesses can use for research is not regulated in the US, and scientists are given a great deal of latitude in deciding when and how to utilize animals in trials. According to regulatory documents, Neuralink has passed every USDA inspection of its facilities.
According to records 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 sources described the number as an approximation.
Missed deadlines and unsuccessful experiments
According to business records and interviews with eight current and former workers, Musk’s frustration with Neuralink has increased since the company debuted in 2016. He has repeatedly missed his deadlines to obtain regulatory approval to begin human clinical trials.
Some Neuralink competitors are more prosperous. A separate implant developed by Synchron, founded in 2016 and with less lofty medical advancement aims, has gained FDA approval to begin human trials in 2021. With the company’s technology, disabled persons may now text and type using only their thoughts. According to research on the Synchron implant experiments analyzed by Reuters, Synchron has also performed tests on animals. However, it has only killed roughly 80 sheep as part of its research.
One error that could have been prevented with more planning occurred in 2021 when 25 out of 60 pigs participating in a study had devices implanted in their heads that were the incorrect size, according to a person with knowledge of the incident and company documents and communications examined by Reuters.
The error alarmed the researchers at Neuralink. Scientist Viktor Kharazia warned coworkers in May 2021 that the mistake might serve as a “red flag” to FDA reviewers of the paper, which the business intended to submit as part of its application to start human trials. The experiment was repeated with 36 sheep after his colleagues came to the same conclusion, according to the person with knowledge of the circumstances.