Elon Musk’s medical device company Neuralink is being investigated by the federal state for possible animal welfare violations, following internal complaints from staff that its animal tests are rushing in, causing unnecessary suffering and deaths, according to documents reviewed by Reuters and sources familiar with the company’s investigation and operations.
Neuralink Corp is developing a brain implant that it hopes will help paralyzed people walk again and cure other neurological ailments. The federal investigation, which had not been previously reported, was opened in recent months by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s inspector general at the request of a federal prosecutor, according to two sources with knowledge of the probe. According to one of the sources, they focus on violations of the Animal Welfare Act, which regulates researchers’ treatment and testing of some animals.
The inquiries come at a time of growing discontent from employees over Neuralink’s animal testing, including complaints that CEO Elon Musk’s pressure to speed up development has led to failed experiments, according to a Reuters review of dozens of Neuralink documents and interviews with more than 20 current and former employees.
These failed tests have had to be repeated, increasing the number of animals being tested and dying, employees say. Company documents include messages, audio recordings, emails, presentations and reports that had not been previously disclosed.
Musk and other Neuralink executives did not respond to requests for comment.
Reuters could not determine the full scope of the federal investigation or whether it involved the same alleged problems with animal testing identified by employees in Reuters interviews.
A spokesman for the USDA inspector general declined to comment. U.S. regulations do not specify the number of animals companies can use for research, and give scientists ample leeway to determine when and how to use animals in experiments. Neuralink has passed all USDA inspections of its facilities, as recorded in regulatory documents.
Musk has pushed hard to accelerate progress for Neuralink, which relies heavily on animal testing, current and former employees said. Earlier this year, the CEO sent his employees a newspaper article about Swiss researchers who developed an electrical implant that helped a paralyzed man walk again.
“We could allow people to use their hands and walk again in daily life!” he wrote to staff at 6:37 a.m. Pacific Time on Feb. 8. Ten minutes later, he continued: “Overall, we are simply not moving fast enough. It’s driving me crazy.”