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Musk's brain implant ready for human trials, but did test monkeys die?

Elon Musk says his brain implant device company Neuralink is ready for human trials, but a report says test monkeys died in the animal trials.
Musk's brain implant ready for human trials, but did test monkeys die?
Posted at 7:46 PM, Sep 22, 2023

Elon Musk's brain implant startup is seeking human trial subjects, but a damning report is giving some possible applicants pause.

The report from WIRED alleges primates used for research at Neuralink died due to complications with the implant procedures, despite Musk's claims that the monkeys who died during trials did so because of terminal illness and not as a result of the implants.

WIRED says it reviewed public records and interviewed a former Neuralink employee and a researcher at University of California, Davis' primate center to prompt this opposing picture of Neuralink's animal research compared to Musk's account.

This picture includes veterinary records, WIRED says, "that contain gruesome portrayals of suffering reportedly endured by as many as a dozen of Neuralink’s primate subjects, all of whom needed to be euthanized."

The publication says these records could help a medical ethics group's call to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission to investigate Musk's claims about the primates' causes of death.

The nonprofit group, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, says Musk knew his comments about the primate deaths were false and that they misled investors into thinking the exploratory studies were safe to put on the market.

The report came hours after Neuralink announced an independent review board had approved it to begin offering brain implants to human paralysis patients for the first time as part of the company's six-year PRIME Study, or Precise Robotically Implanted Brain-Computer Interface study.

The goal of the human study, and for the device itself, is for patients with quadriplegia or ALS to be able to use the surgically placed chip, which is installed by a robot, to control external devices with their thoughts.

SEE MORE: Elon Musk's Neuralink gets FDA approval to start clinical trials

And although it's an exciting concept, Musk's claim on Sept. 10 that none of the animal test subjects died as a result of the implant — instead, he said the company had chosen terminal monkeys already close to death — prompted renewed questions, investigated in WIRED's report.

WIRED says records it obtained show multiple complications in the monkeys that developed following the surgical implant procedures, including partial paralysis and brain swelling.

The report details multiple instances in which the implants caused monkey test subjects either infections, bleeding, pain and/or a loss of coordination. Another instance, it alleges, left a monkey with "parts of her cerebral cortex focally tattered."

The publication's report isn't the first time Neuralink has faced similar allegations since it began animal trials in 2017.

In Dec. 2022, Reuters reported the Department of Agriculture's Office of Inspector General had launched a probe into the company's treatment of some animal subjects. And in February, the Department of Transportation opened an investigation into allegations of its unsafe transport of antibiotic-resistant pathogens.

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