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According to documents viewed by Reuters and sources familiar with the investigation and company operations, Elon Musk’s Neuralink, a medical device company, is under federal investigation for possible animal-welfare violations as a result of internal staff complaints that its animal testing is being rushed, leading to needless suffering and deaths.

Neuralink is working on a brain implant that it hopes will restore movement to paralyzed people and treat other neurological conditions. According to two sources with knowledge of the investigation, the US Department of Agriculture’s Inspector General recently opened the federal investigation, which had not previously been reported, at the request of a federal prosecutor.

One of the sources claimed that the investigation focuses on infractions of the Animal Welfare Act, which controls how some animals are used in research and testing.

According to a Reuters review of dozens of Neuralink documents and interviews with more than 20 current and former employees, the investigation has been launched at a time of rising employee discontent regarding Neuralink’s animal testing, including complaints that pressure from CEO Musk to accelerate development has led to botched experiments. The employees claim that because such unsuccessful tests had to be redone, more animals were used in testing and died as a result. The company’s records include emails, reports, presentations, audio recordings, messages, and previously unreported messages.

Requests for comment from Musk and other Neuralink executives went unanswered.

The extent of the federal investigation and whether it focused on the same alleged issues with animal testing mentioned by employees in Reuters interviews were both unknowns to Reuters. The inspector general of the USDA’s office declined to comment. The number of animals that businesses can use for research is not regulated in the US, and scientists are given a great deal of latitude in deciding when and how to use animals in experiments. According to regulatory filings, Neuralink has passed every USDA inspection of its facilities.
According to records examined by Reuters and sources with firsthand knowledge of the company’s animal-testing operations, since 2018, the company has killed approximately 1,500 animals, including more than 280 sheep, pigs, and monkeys. The company does not keep exact records on the number of animals tested and killed, according to the sources, who described that number as a rough estimate. Neuralink has also used mice and rats in its research.
According to records examined by Reuters and sources with firsthand knowledge of the company’s animal-testing operations, since 2018, the company has killed approximately 1,500 animals, including more than 280 sheep, pigs, and monkeys. The company does not keep exact records on the number of animals tested and killed, according to the sources, who described that number as a rough estimate. Neuralink has also used mice and rats in its research.
However, current and former Neuralink employees claim that because of Musk’s demands for accelerated research, more animals are dying than is necessary. Employee interviews and company discussions spanning years helped Reuters identify four experiments involving 86 pigs and two monkeys that were tainted by mistakes in recent years. Three current and former employees claimed that the errors reduced the research value of the tests and necessitated their repetition, which killed additional animals. The three individuals blamed the errors on a testing team’s lack of planning while operating in a pressure-cooker environment.
An employee complained bitterly to coworkers earlier this year about the need to change how the business manages animal surgeries to stop “hack jobs,” according to a message obtained by Reuters. The employee complained that the tight schedule caused under-prepared and stressed staff members to scramble to meet deadlines and make last-minute adjustments before surgeries, increasing risks to the animals.
According to current and former employees, Musk has exerted significant pressure to quicken Neuralink’s development, which is heavily dependent on animal testing. The CEO sent staff members a news article earlier this year about Swiss researchers who created an electrical implant that allowed a paralyzed man to walk once more. He wrote to staff at 6:37 a.m. Pacific Time on February 8 that “We could help people use their hands and walk again in daily life!” He followed up ten minutes later: “In general, we are just not moving quickly enough. It is making me crazy!
According to three sources who have repeatedly overheard Musk making the remark, Musk has told staff members to imagine having a bomb strapped to their heads in an effort to get them to move more quickly. According to a former employee who heard Musk’s comment, on one occasion a few years ago, he threatened to cause a “market failure” at Neuralink unless they made more advancements. This comment was interpreted by some employees as a threat to shut down operations.
Concerns had been voiced internally, five people who worked on Neuralink’s animal experimentation told Reuters. They claimed to have argued in favor of a more conventional testing strategy whereby scientists would carry out one element at a time in an animal study and then draw pertinent conclusions before moving on to other animal experiments. They claimed that Neuralink conducts tests in rapid succession rather than addressing flaws in earlier tests or reaching a final conclusion. The end result: More animals are tested and killed overall, in part because the method calls for more tests.


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