Health Care

Doctors allege Elon Musk-funded primate research violated law

Matt Rourke/ AP
CEO Elon Musk departs from the justice center in Wilmington, Del., Tuesday, July 13, 2021. 

A doctors group representing more than 17,000 physicians filed a complaint last week against the University of California, Davis for violating animal protection laws and conducting harmful research on monkeys in a program funded by Neuralink, a company co-founded by entrepreneur Elon Musk.

The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine announced on Feb. 10 that it filed the complaint with the U.S. Department of Agriculture because the university’s Primate Center conducted “invasive and deadly brain experiments” on 23 monkeys and “failed to provide dying monkeys with adequate veterinary care.”

Neuralink, a neurotechnology company developing brain-machine interfaces, poured $1.4 million into the project, according to the committee, which won a lawsuit last year to obtain roughly 600 public records and documents from the university.

Jeremy Beckham, a research advocacy coordinator for the Physicians Committee, said the documents “reveal that monkeys had their brains mutilated in shoddy experiments and were left to suffer and die.”

“UC Davis may have handed over its publicly-funded facilities to a billionaire, but that doesn’t mean it can evade transparency requirements and violate federal animal welfare laws,” Beckham said in a statement.

UC Davis said the collaboration with Neuralink ended in 2020 and all experiments were approved by an oversight committee, with “round-the-clock” veterinary care.

“We strive to provide the best possible care to animals in our charge. Animal research is strictly regulated and UC Davis follows all applicable laws and regulations including those of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which makes regular inspections, and the NIH Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare,” the university said in a statement.

Neuralink, headed by Musk, said in a blog post that the company began working with UC Davis in 2017 on research that lasted 2 ½ years. During that time, researchers experimented with implants on macaques consistent with federal laws and “in the most humane and ethical way possible.”

“At Neuralink, we are never satisfied with the current standards for animal well being and we will always push ourselves to do more for the animals that are contributing so much to humanity,” the company wrote.

The Physicians Committee has filed another public records lawsuit to obtain video and photographic evidence documenting how the monkeys were treated, according to last week’s news release.

Committee doctors also allege the university removed portions of the monkeys’ skulls to implant electrodes in their brains — and used a substance called “Bioglue” that destroyed portions of the animals’ brains.

Neuralink said two animals were euthanized at planned end dates and six were euthanized at medical advice from staff for reasons including complications with Bioglue, device failure and device-related infections. 

The company noted it was working to correct issues that occurred in the research process.

“We also look forward to a day where animals are no longer necessary for medical research,” the company wrote in the blog post. “Yet our society currently relies on medical breakthroughs to cure diseases, prevent the spread of viruses, and create technology that can change how people are able to interact with the world.”

— Updated at 5:23 p.m.

Tags Elon Musk lawsuit Neuralink

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