By Dominic Taylor-
A medical company set up by Elon Musk is under federal investigation for potential welfare violations – with a total of 1,500 animals dying in four years, according to a report.
The federal investigation was sparked after staff at Neuralink made numerous internal complaints that animal testing is being rushed – causing needless suffering and deaths, according to Reuters.
Neuralink Corp is developing a brain implant it hopes will help paralyzed people walk again and cure other neurological ailments. The federal investigation, which has not been previously reported, was opened in recent months by the US Department of Agriculture’s inspector general at the request of a federal prosecutor, according to two sources with knowledge of the investigation. The inquiry, one of the sources said, focuses on violations of the Animal Welfare Act, which governs how researchers treat and test some animals.
Neuralink is developing a brain implant that it hopes will help paralysed people walk again – and cure other neurological issues.
Several allegations that pressure from Musk to accelerate development has resulted in botched experiments, according to a Reuters review of dozens of Neuralink documents and interviews with more than 20 current and former employees. Such failed tests have had to be repeated, increasing the number of animals being tested and killed, the employees say. The company documents include previously unreported messages, audio recordings, emails, presentations and reports.
The complaints made by staff allege that increased pressure from the billionaire to accelerate development, leading to botched experiments that need to be repeated are avoidable come at a bad time for the entrepreneur, who has been facing massive dissent in relation to his take over of twitter.
In one case, 25 pigs were reportedly implanted with devices that were the wrong size.
Reuters also claimed that – on several occasions – Musk told employees to imagine they had a bomb strapped to their heads in an effort to get them to move faster.
The San Francisco-based company had sought approval from the US Food and Drug Administration for the Neuralink project, which has seen scientists develop a tiny implant with more than 3,000 electrodes, attached to flexible threads measuring about the tenth of the size of a hair, and capable of monitoring about 1,000 neurons.
At the time of its launch, Mr Musk said they had three pigs with two coin-sized implants each, and he described them as “healthy, happy and indistinguishable from a normal pig”.
The alleged issues highlighted with Neuralink’s testing have raised questions about the quality of the data generated from experiments – and this could potentially delay attempts to begin trials on humans.
But some employees interviewed by Reuters said the company treated animals quite well when compared with other research facilities – with animals given freedom to roam in what has been likened to a “Monkey Disneyland”.
One former Neuralink staffer recalled Musk saying that he disliked using animals for research but wanted to make sure they were “the happiest animals” while alive.