Physicians’ Committee for Responsible Medicine takes on Elon Musk over brain research

An animal rights group is urging the US government to cite Elon Musk’s brain-tech startup Neuralink and the University of California-Davis over allegations that the organizations may have committed “violations blatant violations of the animal welfare law” when testing brain implant devices on macaque monkeys.

The nonprofit, Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, plans to file a formal complaint with the Department of Agriculture on Thursday, according to a draft of the documents reviewed by The Daily Beast.

Physicians Committee is an activist group “dedicated to saving and improving human and animal life through plant-based diets and ethical and effective scientific research,” according to its website.

Neuralink had a research partnership with UC Davis through 2020, documents show, in which university scientists helped the company test its technology on macaques.

The startup, which appears to be getting closer to human trials, was co-founded by Musk in 2016. Its initial goal is to help alleviate disabilities like paralysis, although the billionaire has previously flagged ambitions to help humans to develop a “symbiosis” with artificial intelligence. — a vision that worries some experts.

In recent years, Neuralink videos, including one of a monkey controlling a “pong” video game, have gone viral online.

“I think Neuralink seems to be very good at marketing and creating very selective videos. But the reality is much grimmer as to what these implants mean for the animals that put them in their brains,” said Jeremy Beckham , research and advocacy coordinator for the Physicians Committee.

Asked about these allegations, Musk said Neuralink’s work with the university was limited.

“Neuralink goes to great lengths to take care of our animals. We do not “fund” UC Davis – it is a state institution. Of course,” he wrote in an email to The Daily Beast. He added that “the truth and ‘The Daily Beast’ don’t know each other well.”

When provided with a copy of the partnership contract between Neuralink and the university – which detailed $796,006 in seed funding in 2017 – Musk responded with a slightly edited response: “We do not do any research work at UC Davis. – it’s almost entirely government funded institution.They provide us with a small number of macaque monkeys and we take extremely good care of them.

He further stated that previous media coverage of the partnership was “not accurate at all”.

It’s unclear which specific elements Musk is challenging. The contract outlined a three-phase plan with UC Davis that called for 14 monkeys, six of whom were designated for “terminal” procedures so their brains could be examined after being euthanized post-surgery.

A university spokesperson also acknowledged that the two organizations have partnered. “UC Davis had a research collaboration with Neuralink, which ended in 2020. The research protocols were carefully reviewed and approved by the campus Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee,” the gatekeeper wrote. -word.

“We strive to provide the best care possible for the animals in our care. Animal research is strictly regulated, and UC Davis complies with all applicable laws and regulations.

The Physicians’ Committee says otherwise. In a draft complaint it plans to file with the USDA, the activist group says that, based on more than 600 pages of academic documents it obtained through a lawsuit , at least 23 macaques were used in research at UC Davis in the “Neuralink-funded project”, and that “many, if not all, of the monkeys suffered extreme suffering due to inadequate animal care. and highly invasive experimental head implants.”

Some of the animals, according to the group, received up to 10 craniomas, were tied to chairs for up to five hours a day, or “underwent terminal (fatal) procedures.”

At least one monkey was euthanized after “the area around the monkey’s head implant became infected,” according to the complaint. The health of another macaque also reportedly deteriorated after receiving an implant. After she was also euthanized, an autopsy revealed signs of “cerebral hemorrhage” and “acute esophageal ulcers…probably due to vomiting.”

The Physicians’ Committee sued UC Davis last year, saying the university refused to turn over documents as part of a public records request. (The university’s spokesperson said it was “fully complying with California public records law in responding to their request.”)

He eventually handed over tons of documents, associate general counsel for the doctors’ committee, Deborah Dubow Press, told the press, though the group is now planning to sue for additional health records, photos and videos on the monkeys.

The press said the group would find it difficult to monitor current testing conditions at Neuralink, as it is not a public institution. And even if the association can convince the USDA to cite Neuralink and the university on the former partnership, the financial stakes are relatively low.

“Unfortunately, the law does not provide for very significant penalties,” said Beckham, the advocacy research coordinator. “Even $10,000 would be a lot in our system… These fines are often just rolled in by labs as a cost of doing business.”

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