Neuralink stands to be prosecuted under the Animal Welfare Act.
Neuralink is facing a federal probe for potential animal welfare violations, Reuters reported.
The San Francisco-based medical company, which is working on developing a brain implant, is conducting tests on animals as it seeks approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to begin clinical trials in people.
Neuralink staff revealed that the company has killed around 1,500 animals, including 280 sheep, pigs, and monkeys, since 2018.
While the number is not necessarily indicative of malpractice or wrongdoing, as medical companies routinely use animals in experiments, the objection is the circumstances in which the animals have died.
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) probe also comes amid growing dissent among Neuralink employees. According to the staff, pressure from Elon Musk to accelerate development resulted in botched experiments that caused more animal deaths and needless suffering.
Neuralink’s animal violations
According to Neuralink, the brain implant will cure neurological ailments, help paralyzed people walk again, and cure blindness, among other conditions.
However, in the quest to speed up the process and start human clinical trials, Neuralink has got more misses than hits.
The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM), a group that campaigns for alternatives to animal testing, obtained public records that detailed some grisly experiments. One rhesus macaque monkey’s nausea was “so severe that the animal vomited and had open sores in her esophagus before she was finally killed,” Ryan Merkley, PCRM’s director of research advocacy told VOX.
Surgeons used an unapproved brain glue to fill open spaces in an animal’s skull created by implanting the Neuralink device, “which then caused the animal to suffer greatly due to brain hemorrhaging,” Merkley added.
He also pointed to “instances of animals suffering from chronic infections, like staph infections where the implant was in their head. There were animals pulling out their hair and self-mutilating, which are signs of really poor psychological health in laboratory animals and are very common in rhesus macaques” and other primates.
Although Neuralink is grappling with unethical testing practices and could be prosecuted under the Animal Welfare Act, Elon Musk is very keen on moving onto human trials.
In a presentation at Neuralink headquarters last week, Musk said he expects his company to begin human clinical trials in six months.
“We want to be extremely careful and certain that it will work well before putting a device into a human,” Musk said during a much-awaited public update on the device.
Neuralink has missed several timelines set by Musk in the past, which has allegedly frustrated the business magnate to no end.
Earlier this year, he allegedly emailed Neuralink employees, saying: “In general, we are simply not moving fast enough. It is driving me nuts!”
He also approached competitor Synchron – which achieved a major milestone in July by implanting its device in a patient in the US for the first time – earlier this year about a potential investment.
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