Every by reporter Zheng Yuhang Every by editor LAN Suying
Neuralink, Musk's brain-computer interface company, is being investigated by US federal authorities for alleged animal welfare violations, Reuters reported on Monday. Internal employees allegedly said the company's animal testing was rude and caused unnecessary suffering and death.
The previously unreported federal investigation process was initiated by the USDA inspector general at the request of a federal prosecutor, according to two sources familiar with the matter. The investigation focused on the company's violations of the Animal Welfare Act, which governs how researchers should treat and test animals.
Neuralink is developing a wireless brain chip that aims to help paralyzed people get up and walk again, as well as cure other neurological diseases, National Business Daily noted. Neuralink's wireless brain chip will begin human clinical trials within six months, Musk said on Dec 1, after the company missed his earlier timetable, several foreign media reported. Neuralink's brain chip will also work to restore vision, Musk added on the same day.
The U.S. federal department's investigation comes as employees raise issues with Neuralink's animal trials and are unhappy that the trials failed because Musk demanded faster development, according to dozens of Neuralink documents obtained by Reuters and interviews with more than two dozen current and former employees. The employees said failed tests had to be repeated, increasing the number of animals tested and killed.
Reuters reported that animal tests conducted by Neuralink since 2018 have killed about 1,500 animals, including more than 280 sheep, pigs and monkeys, according to company records it reviewed and sources with direct knowledge of the company's animal testing business. Of course, that figure is a rough estimate, and the company won't record exact numbers. Neuralink has also conducted studies using rats and mice.
Reuters also revealed that earlier this year, Musk sent employees a news article about Swiss researchers who had developed an electronic implant that helped a paralyzed man walk again.
"We can get people to regain the use of their hands and walk again in their daily lives!" "Overall, we are not moving fast enough," Musk wrote in the email. It's driving me crazy!"
Several times over the years, Musk has asked employees to imagine a bomb strapped to their heads to speed up his research, according to three sources, according to Reuters. A few years ago, Mr Musk told employees that unless they made more progress on their research they would trigger a "market failure" for Neuralink, a comment that some employees took as a threat to pull the plug on the business.
Five other researchers working on animal trials at Neurlink told Reuters they advocated more traditional testing methods, including drawing conclusions before conducting animal trials. Neurlink's approach, however, is to do animal trials in rapid succession before fixing problems and drawing full conclusions. This has led to more animals being taken to test beds and put to death.
However, U.S. regulations do not specify how many animals companies can use for research, and they give scientists wide leeway to determine when and how to use animal testing, the report said. Neuralink has previously passed all USDA inspections of its facilities, according to regulatory filings.
A spokesman for the USDA's inspector general declined a Reuters request for comment.
The National Business Daily reporter noted that some of Neuralink's competitors have already broken through. Synchron, a brain-computer interface company based in New York, is developing an implant that will allow paralyzed people to text and type using their brains, and the device has been approved by the FDA to begin human trials in 2021. Synchron has also tested animals, but only about 80 sheep have been killed in the process, according to Synchron implant studies reviewed by Reuters. According to multiple reports in August, Musk approached Synchron about a potential investment.