Test monkeys at Elon Musk’s controversial biotech startup Neuralink died due to a number of complications from brain chip implant procedures, counter to the claims made by the multi-billionaire, a new report claimed.
Nuralink has been developing chips to be implanted into the skull, claiming that such a computer-brain interface will help restore vision in the blind and paralysed people walk again.
The company unveiled the working of its technology in monkey models in the past, including one demonstration of a nine-year-old macaque learning to play the 1970s classic video game Pong.
However, the startup is also subjected to complaints by animal rights groups, including the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM), which criticised the company’s “inadequate care” of its research monkeys a number of times in the past.
In a post on X, the Tesla titan said earlier this month that “no monkey has died as a result of a Neuralink implant” in response to allegations that the neurotech firm was inflicting “extreme suffering” on its primate test subjects.
“First our early implants, to minimise risk to healthy monkeys, we chose terminal monkeys (close to death already),” Mr Musk posted on X, the platform previously known as Twitter.
In a presentation last year, the multibillionaire also claimed that Neuralink’s animal testing was never “exploratory” but was conducted to confirm scientific hypotheses.
“We are extremely careful,” he said at the presentation.
However, public documents obtained by PCRM – a nonprofit that advocates against using live animals in testing – present a different picture.
The documents, reviewed by Wired, pointed out that a number of monkeys, on whom the implants were tested, were euthanised after suffering various complications, including “bloody diarrhea, partial paralysis, and cerebral edema”.
One document reportedly noted that a male macaque was euthanised in March 2020 “after his cranial implant became loose” to the extent that they “could easily be lifted out”.
A necropsy report of this monkey pointed out that “the failure of this implant can be considered purely mechanical and not exacerbated by infection”, which appeared to counter Mr Musk’s claim that no monkeys died due to Neuralink’s chips.
Another primate, the report noted “began to press her head against the floor for no apparent reason” and lose coordination, with her condition deteriorating for months until she was finally euthanised.
A necropsy report, cited by Wired, suggested that this animal was bleeding in her brain and that the neurotech firm’s implants left parts of her cerebral cortex brain region “focally tattered”.
However, the company held that its “use of every animal was extensively planned and considered to balance scientific discovery with the ethical use of animals”.
Neuralink did not immediately respond to The Independent’s request for comment.
The latest report also comes as Neuralink announced on Wednesday that it has started human trials for people with quadriplegia after testing its implants on pigs and monkeys.
“We’re excited to announce that recruitment is open for our first-in-human clinical trial,” the company posted on X.
“If you have quadriplegia due to cervical spinal cord injury or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), you may qualify,” it said.