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US: Neuralink reportedly under investigation by Uncle Sam for animal welfare violations

Neuralink should start clinical trials in six months, according to Musk

 Neuralink should start clinical trials in six months, according to Musk (Reuters) - Elon Musk announced on Wednesday that the neurotechnological start -up he directs, Neuralink, would start the clinical trials of his brain chips in humans in humans six months. The company is developing brain chips which, according to it, could allow paralyzed people to find their motor functions or to communicate again.

  Neuralink reportedly under investigation by Uncle Sam for animal welfare violations © Provided by The Register

Rushed 'hack job' surgeries cause creatures to needless die, staffers claim

Neuralink is reportedly being investigated by the US government for mistreating animals used in lab experiments as the company rushes to build an implantable brain chip.…

The startup, founded in 2016 by serial entrepreneur Elon Musk, is developing a medical device to help people afflicted with brain disorders to communicate, see, or move more easily. Musk said he wants to see the chips in humans next year.

However, before Neuralink obtains permission to start conducting trials on humans from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), it has to test the technology on animals to show it's safe enough for people to try.

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A lawsuit, filed in February by animal rights group the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, accuses the company of killing monkeys after a series of sloppy surgical procedures to insert electrodes inside their skulls. The group alleges that a substance called BioGlue killed two monkeys by "destroying portions of their brains."

The Department of Agriculture's Office of Inspector General (USDA OIG) said it was looking into the case the same month and has now launched an official probe investigating animal welfare at the brain biz, Reuters reports.

The experiments were conducted with researchers at the University of California, Davis and concluded in 2020. Neuralink was accused of carelessly killing monkeys after using the BioGlue or the animals dying from infected wounds before any experiments had even begun.

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The investigation, however, is reportedly concerned with more recent research experiments carried out at the company's own facilities. Neuralink has killed roughly 1,500 animals since 2018, including more than 280 sheep, pigs and monkeys and also operates on rats and mice. Interviews with more than 20 employees and documents reviewed by Reuters claim staff have complained about animals dying in "hack jobs". Many are reportedly frustrated and pushed to perform surgeries quickly.

Musk reportedly sent emails to employees highlighting a news article describing how researchers had built a brain chip to restore mobility in a paralyzed man. "We could enable people to use their hands and walk again in daily life!", he wrote. "In general, we are simply not moving fast enough. It is driving me nuts!," he said in a second follow-up email.

Animals are often killed for examination at the end of experiments. Rushed procedures to implant the device into pigs and monkeys, however, have led to more animals dying and surgery having to be repeated on new animals due to botched or failed attempts, it's claimed.

Musk has repeatedly predicted Neuralink's brain implant will soon be tested in humans. Last week, he said the company had submitted most of its paperwork to the FDA and could probably get trials started in six months from now.

"We're extremely careful," he said at Neuralink's latest show and tell event, and claimed experiments on animals were only performed for "confirmatory, not exploratory," research.

The Register has asked Neuralink and the USDA OIG for comment. ®

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