I worked through my last two years of undergraduate college working as an assistant in an experimental animal surgery. Much of what we were doing was training medical students in basic surgical skills, and installing chronic implants for a neurophysiology department. What this involved was shaving animals, anesthetizing them, locking their heads into a stereotaxic device, and then handing them off to the experimenters. They’d cut open the scalp, drill holes into the skull, and then precisely and accurately lower electrodes into specific locations in the brain. Then either they or I would close up, which involved slathering dental acrylic over the apparatus and stitch the scalp closed. Finally, it was my job to take the animal away to a recovery room and take care of it post-op.
I’m just saying that this was over 40 years ago, but I do have some experience in this area. I assisted in these surgeries on hundreds of animals, cats, rabbits, monkeys, dogs, even goats a few times, and I can remember precisely three rabbits that died on the operating table (rabbits are what we called “friable”, fragile and easily killed by stress) and two cats who died of post-op distress and/or infections. Those were memorable to me because, as the post-op animal care guy, when there were problems I’d spend all night in the recovery room trying to nurse them back to health.
So this story about Musk’s Neuralink tells me that there is something seriously wrong. I’ll put it below the fold because it gets ugly. Seriously, my experience working with small animals was disturbing enough that I spent the rest of my career working on fish embryos and invertebrates, and I swore off doing research on mammals.
This is totally fucked up.
Out of a total of 23 monkeys implanted with Elon Musk’s Neuralink brain chips at the University of California Davis between 2017 and 2020, at least 15 reportedly died.
I’d want to know more about how they died. Eventually, all experimental animals, especially those with chronic implants, are going to be humanely (we hope) euthanized. That was my other job once upon a time, administering an overdose of barbituates and perfusing them with fixatives so the brain could be extracted for analysis (I warned you that it was going to get ugly).
By the way, 23 monkeys is a lot. When I was a grad student at the University of Oregon, we had one person who was doing primate research, and that involved one monkey per year. So much paperwork! So much expense! So much harassment from animal rights groups!
Neuralink doesn’t sound like it was a humane operation.
“Pretty much every single monkey that had had implants put in their head suffered from pretty debilitating health effects,” said the PCRM’s research advocacy director Jeremy Beckham. “They were, frankly, maiming and killing the animals.”
Neuralink chips were implanted by drilling holes into the monkeys’ skulls. One primate developed a bloody skin infection and had to be euthanized. Another was discovered missing fingers and toes, “possibly from self-mutilation or some other unspecified trauma,” and had to be put down. A third began uncontrollably vomiting shortly after surgery, and days later “appeared to collapse from exhaustion/fatigue.” An autopsy revealed the animal suffered from a brain hemorrhage.
Yikes. I also never saw these kinds of recurring infections.
The PCRM filed a complaint with the the US Department of Agriculture on Thursday, accusing UC Davis and Neuralink of nine violations of the Animal Welfare Act. “Many, if not all, of the monkeys experienced extreme suffering as a result of inadequate animal care and the highly invasive experimental head implants during the experiments, which were performed in pursuit of developing what Neuralink and Elon Musk have publicly described as a ‘brain-machine interface,’” the group wrote in the complaint.
“These highly invasive implants and their associated hardware, which are inserted in the brain after drilling holes in the animals’ skulls, have produced recurring infections in the animals, significantly compromising their health, as well as the integrity of the research.”
I did see infections, of course. When we did, we’d immediately get to work and clean and sterilize and treat with heavy does of antibiotics. That was a priority — any suffering beyond what was absolutely necessary for the experiment had to be controlled. You got recurring infections? You’ve got a sloppy operation.
I find this interesting and revealing, too.
A spokesperson for UC Davis responded to the complaint, saying, “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.”
The spokesperson added that the university stopped working with Neuralink in 2020. Neuralink has not issued a response.
That was my university experience as well — if you’ve got a whole lot of people who are reliant on a shared facility, who have grants riding on reliable procedures that can pass federal inspection, you might get a little finicky about a commercial outfit wrecking the reputation of your institution. Another thing I’d like to know is the details of why UC Davis severed their relationship with Neuralink.
Hey, are you still excited about having Elon Musk implant a chip in your head?