Neuralink, the company founded by Tesla CEO Elon Musk to develop a device that connects our brains to computers, has denied allegations of animal cruelty.
A complaint filed with the US Department of Agriculture, last week, alleged cruel treatment of macaque monkeys used to test the technology.
Neuralink stated on its blog that it worked with animals in the “most humane and ethical manner possible”. Later this year, the company hopes to begin human trials with the device.
Neuralink posted a blog post in response to the criticism that the company emphasizes its commitment to animal welfare: “Our central mission is to design an animal care program prioritizing the needs of the animals, rather than the typical strategy of building for human convenience alone.”
“The use of every animal was extensively planned and considered to balance scientific discovery with the ethical use of animals.”The blog stated
A Brief History About Neuralink
Neuralink was set up in 2016 and is privately funded by Musk. The device being developed by the company consists of a tiny probe made up of thousands of electrodes attached to flexible threads – thinner than a human hair – that can monitor neuron activity.
Initially, it is hoped that any successful device will be used to help patients suffering from severe neurological conditions, but Mr Musk also sees a future of “superhuman cognition.”
So far, the company has successfully implanted microchips into the brains of Gertrude, a pig, and Pager, a monkey.
‘Seizures and Trauma’
At the start of the research, Neuralink partnered with Davis National Primate Research Center – part of the University of California – but in 2020 built its own vivarium to house the monkeys, with the stated intention of “improving upon” current standards.
The complaint was filed last week by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine against UC Davis, and related to “invasive and deadly brain experiments conducted on 23 monkeys”.
It claims: “Most of the animals had portions of their skulls removed to implant electrodes in their brains.”
It also alleges that macaque monkeys used in the experiment were caged alone, suffered “facial trauma” and had seizures and infections local to the site of the implant.
Some were euthanized (means to painlessly put a person or animal to death) before they were used in experiments, it claims.
The Committee said it acquired the information from 600 pages of documents released after it filed a public records legal action last year.
It has now filed a second legal action to compel the university to release videos and photos of the monkeys.
In its rebuttal of the claims, Neuralink acknowledged that two animals were put to death “at planned end dates to gather important histological data”.
Another six monkeys were euthanised on the medical advice of the veterinary team at UC Davis, it said.
“These reasons included one surgical complication involving the use of the FDA-approved product, BioGlue, one device failure and four suspected device-association infections,” it said.
It added: “While the facilities and care at UC Davis did, and continue to meet, federally-mandated standards, we absolutely wanted to improve upon these standards as we transitioned animals to our in-house facilities.
In 2020, the firm opened a 6,000 square ft vivarium, housing farm animals and rhesus macaques. In the blog, it posted pictures of the unit, showing toys, food and what it called “enrichment devices” to allow animals to forage.
BBC has published this detailed information, and the company has also requested comment from UC Davis.