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Monkey deaths at Musk’s brain-implant firm stir calls for FDA bans

Two years ago, usbek&richet experimented on macaques in an effort to extend life through brain implants. The results were disastrous: all of the monkeys died within days or weeks of receiving the implants. The company was roundly criticized for its animal testing, and now, after another round of monkey deaths, calls are mounting for the US Food and Drug Administration to ban the company’s products.

Musk’s company—which is now called Neuralink—has been working on brain implants that it says could one day help humans treat a variety of neurological conditions, including Alzheimer’s, dementia, and paralysis. The company has been tight-lipped about its work, but in February, it released a video showing a macaque monkey with an implant in its brain playing a video game with its mind.

The video was impressive, but it also stirred up old concerns about the company’s animal testing. In 2019, it was revealed that Neuralink had been experimenting on macaques, and that all of the monkeys that received implants died within days or weeks. The company claimed at the time that the deaths were due to an infection, but many criticized the company for its lack of transparency and for putting animals through procedures that could not possibly be justified.

Now, after two more rounds of monkey deaths, calls are mounting for the FDA to ban Neuralink’s products. In a letter to the FDA last week, US Senators Jeff Merkley and Elizabeth Warren wrote that “it is clear that Neuralink has not adequately considered the serious risks associated with its proposed brain implants, and it has not been transparent about the extent of the injuries its experiments have caused.”

The letter goes on to say that “if Neuralink does not immediately halt its experiments on primates, we urge the FDA to use its authority to protect the welfare of animals and prohibit the use of Neuralink’s products in humans.”

It is clear that Neuralink has not adequately considered the risks of its brain implants, and it is time for the FDA to step in and protect the welfare of animals.
implants brain

At least three monkeys have died at a research facility run by Elon Musk’s brain-implant startup Neuralink, according to a new report that is reigniting calls for the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to ban experiments on primates.

The report, published on Monday by the non-profit group Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM), alleges that three monkeys died at Neuralink’s California facility between July 2017 and August 2020. The animals reportedly suffered from hemorrhages, convulsions, and brain swelling.

“This report underscores the urgent need for the FDA to halt Neuralink’s dangerous experiments on monkeys,” said John Pippin, MD, FACC, senior medical and research advisor for PCRM, in a statement. “These monkeys have suffered and died in vain. The FDA should immediately put an end to this cruel and unnecessary research.”

Musk has been touting the potential for brain implants to help humans interface with computers for years, and Neuralink was founded in 2016 with the goal of developing “ultra high bandwidth brain-machine interfaces to connect humans and computers.” The company has said that its goal is to one day help people with quadriplegia or paraplegia regain the ability to walk, and it has published some preliminary results of experiments in which rats and monkeys have been able to move robotic limbs with their thoughts.

But the new report from PCRM alleges that the company’s experiments have been plagued by problems, including the deaths of three monkeys. According to the report, one monkey died after suffering a “massive hemorrhage” and another died from “uncontrollable brain swelling.” The third monkey reportedly died after it was accidentally decapitated while still conscious.

“These deaths are a red flag that something is very wrong at Neuralink,” said Pippin. “The FDA should not wait for more animals to be hurt or killed before taking action.”

PCRM is urging the FDA to immediately ban experiments on primates at Neuralink, and to investigate the company’s animal welfare practices.

“Elon Musk’s company is playing fast and loose with animal welfare laws, and nonhuman primates are paying the price,” said Justin Goodman, director of advocacy and policy for PCRM. “It’s time for the FDA to put a stop to these dangerous and discredited brain-machine interface experiments.”

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