WASHINGTON--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Elon Musk’s brain-computer interface company Neuralink violated the federal Animal Welfare Act and received a free pass from the agency responsible for enforcing the law. That’s what the USDA wrote last week in a response to letters from members of Congress. Those letters requested updates about a reported USDA Office of Inspector General investigation into Neuralink and recent revelations of serious conflicts of interest within the company. In his July 14 response, USDA Secretary Thomas Vilsack provided no update on the investigation, but he did confirm that a 2019 incident would have been recorded as a violation of the law if not for the use of a since rescinded policy designed to remove violations from public records.
The 2019 incident involved a macaque identified only as “Animal 8” by UC Davis, where Neuralink paid to conduct experiments until 2020. According to records obtained by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine through a lawsuit against UC Davis, the company drilled holes in Animal 8’s skull, implanted electrodes in his brain, and filled the holes with a surgical adhesive called BioGlue. BioGlue was not approved for use in the experiment, which is a serious violation under the law.
Rather than cite the violation on an inspection report, USDA applied its policy known as Incentives for Identifying, Reporting, Correcting, and Preventing Noncompliance with the AWA, which hid from the public an unknown number of violations by laboratories nationwide.
Vilsack did not address an incident involving BioGlue from 2018, when Neuralink applied the adhesive to the skull of a macaque labeled “Animal 21.” She soon experienced paralysis in both legs, was seen “gasping/retching,” and “collapse[d] from exhaustion/fatigue.” When staff euthanized her, they discovered BioGlue had been “covering and compressing” part of her brain. They also found ulcers in her esophagus “likely due to vomiting” and blood in her stomach. It remains unclear why USDA found the 2019 use of BioGlue to be a violation but not the 2018 use.
“Once again, regulators seem to be turning a blind eye to Neuralink’s crude, cruel practices,” says Ryan Merkley, director of research advocacy at the nonprofit Physicians Committee.
The Physicians Committee has pointed out that implanted devices like Neuralink’s come with many problems, including difficulty of repair and a high potential for severe medical complications in patients. The group has urged Neuralink to halt its animal experiments and instead focus on improving noninvasive brain-machine interfaces.