Medicine Elon Musk is looking forward to the first brain chip in humans – but animals are said to have died in agony due to Neuralink
Elon Musk thinks big and wants to change the world – but he pays less attention to the details.
© Michel Euler / AFP
“The first human patient will soon receive a Neuralink device,” announces CEO Elon Musk. It seems as if the US company’s brain implants are safe. A media report reveals how dangerous they allegedly were for the laboratory animals.
Elon Musk has a high proven record of broken promises. Especially if you look at his vehicle company Tesla, there have been countless examples in recent years that the billionaire and multi-CEO often announces more than he can deliver. This is annoying in the event of postponed market launches for cars, but it doesn’t hurt anyone. However, when it comes to medical products that attach directly to the patient’s brain, the potential danger of acute overestimation increases.
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So you should pay close attention when Musk on X, formerly Twitter, is happy that his company Neuralink’s research will soon accept the first human patient. He recently announced: “The first human patient will soon receive a Neuralink device. This ultimately has the potential to restore full body movement. […] Imagine if Stephen Hawking had that.”
Medical reports contradict Elon Musk
The road to this post from Musk was long and rocky. The young company Neuralink came under criticism more than once because of its experiments on animals – and since then it has made a conspicuous effort to spread the image of the happy laboratory monkey. This even goes so far that Musk writes that only “end-stage monkeys” were used for the first experiments in order to minimize the risk to healthy animals. Musk also announced: “No monkey has died as a result of a Neuralink implant.” According to Musk, the deaths of animals for which there are records were not due to the experiments.
A detailed and cruel report by the US magazine “Wired” clearly contradicts this statement. Accordingly, the medical ethics group Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine recently even filed a complaint with the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). The group is demanding that officials investigate whether Musk’s statements are true or whether complications during the implantation procedures actually led to the animals’ deaths. They rely on veterinary records that paint a grim picture of the work behind the scenes.
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“Wired” evaluated some of the reports and spoke to a former Neuralink employee. It is said that the medical notes mention a whole series of complications that occurred after experiments. The electrodes, which were surgically implanted into the brains of monkeys, caused bloody diarrhea, partial paralysis and cerebral edema. It can be proven that at least a dozen animals had to be euthanized due to serious health consequences.
“Wired” gives a handful of concrete examples in the report and describes the suffering of the animals extremely graphically. We are talking about inflammation, conspicuous, almost panicked behavior and compulsive self-mutilation. In one case, an implant reportedly came loose. It is said that two screws had become loose enough that the chip could easily be lifted. The animal therefore had to be euthanized. A case that shows that Musk seems to contradict his own company’s reports.
Neuralink is looking for test subjects
The former employee who Wired confronted with Musk’s posts said that the part about the “end-stage monkeys” in particular was simply “ridiculous.” According to him, the animals had to undergo a behavioral training program for about a year before the procedures. This excludes monkeys, which only have a short life expectancy.
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Due to concerns, Neuralink was still banned from human research by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in early 2022. According to Reuters, the agency’s biggest safety concerns concerned the lithium battery and the possibility that the implant’s tiny wires could travel to other areas of the brain.
In May 2023, the FDA granted Neuralink approval for human trials. And that could start soon, because Neuralink has been looking for suitable test subjects for a few days.
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