Musk’s brain implant company reportedly investigated over animal deaths

Washington Post photo by Jonathan Newton
Elon Musk in Boca Chica, Tex., on Feb. 10.

Elon Musk’s medical device company Neuralink is reportedly under federal investigation related to accusations from employees that pressure from the tech mogul to produce results led to barbaric and botched surgeries of monkeys, sheep and pigs involved in scientific tests.

Neuralink, which is attempting to produce a brain implant to allow paralyzed people to regain limb function and treat neurological ailments, has killed roughly 1,500 animals involved in tests since 2018, Reuters reported. The Department of Agriculture’s Office of Inspector General opened an investigation in recent months under the Animal Welfare Act, the news service reported.

Representatives from Neuralink did not respond to a request for comment. The Agriculture Department referred questions to the Office of Inspector General. Amy Lowenthal, the assistant counsel to the inspector general, said in an email that the agency “neither confirms nor denies the existence of any such investigation.”

Reuters cited reviews of internal records, interviews with sources aware of the company’s operations and people with knowledge of the investigation in its report. The Washington Post has not confirmed the existence of an investigation or the number of animals killed.

Musk is already embroiled in controversies over his recent acquisition of Twitter. Shortly after taking the platform private for $44 billion, he laid off half its staff, then saw defections of hundreds more workers after vowing to impose a “hardcore” work environment. Days later, he admitted former president Donald Trump and leaders of hate groups back on to the platform after previous suspensions.

Musk’s electric car manufacturing company, Tesla, is also facing a lawsuit from an employee alleging rampant sexual harassment that stemmed from Musk’s intense focus on productivity and laissez faire attitude toward corporate culture. Tesla has denied the claims.

Employees at Neuralink told Reuters that Musk demanded researchers hasten their work, which led some to rush experiments on animals in their care.

“In general, we are simply not moving fast enough. It is driving me nuts!” Musk wrote in a February email obtained by the news service.

Medical research firms commonly conduct tests on animals to ensure the technology is sufficiently safe for human trials. After those procedures, animals are often euthanized so researchers can conduct autopsies and evaluate the technology.

But animal trials are strictly regulated under federal law to prevent undue pain and suffering. Employees alleged to Reuters that the number of animals killed was excessive because of human errors wrought by Musk’s demands – including one episode in which 86 pigs and two monkeys died after botched tests.

Earlier in 2022, Reuters reported, one employee wrote an angry message to colleagues complaining of surgeries that were “hack jobs.” In February, an animal rights group filed a complaint with federal regulators over surgeries that led to the death of six monkeys.