TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — A national physicians group is suing Elon Musk’s Neuralink over its brain chip production and the harm they allege it has caused the macaque monkeys used in testing the technology at the University of California, Davis.
The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) is alleging that, using taxpayer dollars, Neuralink’s experimental technology and testing at UC Davis led to the monkeys suffering severe health issues, and death, thanks to implanted electrodes in their brains. Neuralink manufactured the chips for the brand’s “brain-machine interface.”
Musk co-founded Neuralink in 2016 along with a group of experts in neuroscience, biochemistry and robotics. The company name was trademarked in 2017. Musk has said the goal of the brain implant is to eventually synchronize human minds with artificial intelligence and computers, similar to the so-called neural lace described in author Ian M. Banks’ “Culture” novels, according to previous reporting by Ars Technica.
PCRM sued for access to a set of records in a California court, seeking to get copies of videos and photographs of the monkeys during testing. The group also filed a complaint with the United States Department of Agriculture, alleging Neuralink has violated the Animal Welfare Act.
So far, UC Davis has refused to provide the visual records to PCRM, allegedly claiming the materials belong to Neuralink and are therefore not subject to public records laws as a private company. However, the lab conducting the experiments is a part of the California National Primate Research Center, and funded by taxpayer dollars. The monkeys provided are cared for by the research center, and the Neuroscience Behavior Unit where Neuralink is conducting its tests is a part of the lab.
In their complaint to the USDA, PCRM relied upon written medical records for each of the macaque monkeys due to the refusal by UC Davis to provide the “requested disposition records, photos, or video footage” in 2021.
Pulling medical records for the 23 test monkeys used by Neuralink, made up from 600 pages, PCRM alleged that the tech company, and UC Davis, had not properly cared for the monkeys in question, leading to their injury, suffering and death.
The hundreds of pages of records are filled with test results for health, both physical and psychological, mostly in the handwritten script of the monkeys’ caregivers. The files describe the process of moving the macaques as “animal shipped to Neuralink” and note how they behaved before and after receiving the implant.
The roughly 600 pages of documentation obtained by PCRM and released to WFLA contain death records, necropsy reports, behavioral observations and notes of testing for multiple surgeries for the monkeys, dating back to at least 2018: Abrasions. Facial trauma. Discomfort. Poor appetite, losing weight. Bleeding. An unwillingness to eat or return to their pens. Did the subject eat or forage? How was their appetite?
“Consider further intervention if animal appears uncomfortable or more trauma occurs,” reads one note from May 2018.
Some describe sedation after vomiting before a physical examination. Other pages include observations about the need to relocate a macaque after other injuries. Monkeys were treated with dexamethasone, an anti-inflammatory drug, after receiving the Neuralink cranial implants, as well as diphenhydramine, an antihistamine.
The drugs were administered when monkeys began to display itchiness and scratching of their heads following the test procedures. While at the facility for Neuralink, some of the described traumas and behavioral changes were reported as “resolved” over time.
In a copy of the complaint filed provided by PCRM, attorneys for the organization argue Neuralink and UC Davis must turn over footage and records due to the funding status of the labs in question. Records already received by PCRM detail what they call abuse of the macaques, such as a “failure” to provide adequate veterinary care, and use of “an unapproved substance known as ‘Bioglue’ that killed monkeys by destroying portions of their brains.”
Bioglue is a surgical adhesive designed for assisting in the body’s recovery from surgery, in a similar use to stitches or surgical staples. The product is produced by CryoLife of Kennesaw, Ga. and has only received premarket approval from the FDA, meaning it is in a testing status and requires further checks “to assure the safety and effectiveness” before being sold to patients or consumers.
Neuralink itself is privately owned by Musk, and UC Davis has reportedly withheld the records “under the pretext of preventing a chilling effect on academic research.” However, according to the PCRM complaint, the tech company regularly publishes videos and images of their tests on social media, the press and other online locations.
Therefore, PCRM alleges a privacy interest is “substantially reduced” due to Neuralink’s own promotional habits.
Additionally, UC Davis allegedly told PCRM by email in August that Neuralink had independently installed, managed and then removed all of their computing and storage systems from the CNPRC, so they did not have materials to provide.
“UC Davis may have handed over its publicly-funded facilities to a billionaire, but that doesn’t mean it can evade transparency requirements and violate federal animal welfare laws,” Jeremy Beckham, MPA, MPH, research advocacy coordinator with the Physicians Committee, said in a statement. “The documents reveal that monkeys had their brains mutilated in shoddy experiments and were left to suffer and die.”
Beckham said the “horrific abuse” was being hidden due to the conditions in which the experiments were conducted.
PCRM alleged in their USDA complaint that the UC Davis Regents “withheld all descriptions of the conditions experienced by animals, whether or not the information was directly related to actual experiments conducted.” Despite releasing visual materials on the website for the CNPRC, the Regents claimed providing those same materials could potentially “harm in individuals’ careers or lead to a chilling effect on future academic research.”
The complaint alleges the Regents redacted documents “through a blanket determination to withhold” information, instead of separating it. When the documents were released to PCRM, they report more than 500 redactions were added to the records, including animal identification numbers.
UC Davis is also reported to have redacted about 80% of communications provided in the records requests made by PCRM, detailing contacts between Neuralink and the Regents. Due to the redactions, PCRM’s complaint and lawsuits allege the university violated California’s Public Records Act, prompting the lawsuit.
In response to requests for comment from WFLA, UC Davis sent the following statement.
UC Davis did have a research collaboration with Neuralink, which concluded in 2020. The research protocols were thoroughly reviewed and approved by the campus’s Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC). The work was conducted by Neuralink researchers in facilities at the California National Primate Research Center at UC Davis. UC Davis staff provided veterinary care including round-the-clock monitoring of experimental animals. When an incident occurred, it was reported to the IACUC, which mandated training and protocol changes as needed.
Regarding the lawsuit by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, we fully complied with the California Public Records Act in responding to their request. Indeed, additional materials have been supplied to PCRM since the conclusion of the research agreement with Neuralink.
We strive to provide the best possible care to animals in our charge. Animal research is strictly regulated and UC Davis follows all applicable laws and regulations including those of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which makes regular inspections, and the NIH Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare. The UC Davis animal care program, including the California National Primate Research Center, is accredited by AAALAC International, a nonprofit organization.
As a national primate research center, the CNPRC is a resource for both public and private sector researchers.Statement from Andy Fell, UC Davis News & Media Relations
8 On Your Side has reached out to Elon Musk, the Investor Relations team at Tesla, and Neuralink to request a response to the lawsuit.