Following last week's announcement by Elon Musk regarding the recruitment of human test subjects for Neuralink trials, questions arose regarding the accuracy of his earlier statement claiming that monkeys involved in the experiments had not experienced fatalities due to the implants.
Earlier this month, Elon Musk claimed on X-formerly-Twitter that the monkeys who died during Neuralink trials were "terminal" cases "close to death already," making it clear that none of them perished as a result of the biotech company's brain implants.
Documents viewed as part of a new investigation by Wired, however, as well as testimony from a former employee, contradict Musk's claims entirely — and the details are as upsetting as they are damning, adding to a mounting case against the safety of Neuralink's devices.
And the timing couldn't be more exigent either, with Neuralink announcing on Wednesday that it's recruiting subjects for human trials.
Here's the harrowing casualty report, per veterinary records obtained by Wired from the California National Primate Research Center (CNPRC) at UC Davis, the site of the Neuralink primate research. Up to a dozen monkeys suffered grisly fates after receiving a Neuralink implant, including brain swelling and partial paralysis.
First is the case of the monkey "Animal 20." In December 2019, an internal part of the brain implant being inserted into the primate "broke off" during surgery. Later that night, the monkey scratched at the implant site, drawing blood, and yanked on the implant, partially dislodging it. Follow-up surgery discovered that the wound was infected, but that the placement of the implant prevented treatment. The monkey was euthanized the next month.
Before that, a female monkey designated "Animal 15" began to press her head against the ground after receiving the brain implant, pick at the site until it bled, and eventually lost coordination, shivering when personnel entered the room. Scientists discovered she had brain bleeding, and in March 2019, she too was euthanized.
The following year, a primate called "Animal 22" was put down in March 2020 after its brain implant became so loose that the screws attaching it to the skull "could easily be lifted out," according to a necropsy report.
"The failure of this implant can be considered purely mechanical and not exacerbated by infection," the necropsy states.
As Wired notes, that statement alone seemingly contradicts Musk's claims that no monkeys directly died from Neuralink brain implants.
And so would the account of an ex-Neuralink employee, who told Wired that Musk's claims that the monkeys were already terminally ill are "ridiculous," even a "straight-up fabrication."
"We had these monkeys for a year or so before any surgery was performed," the ex-employee said.
The testimony of an anonymous scientist conducting research at CNPRC seems to corroborate the ex-employee's allegations.
"These are pretty young monkeys," they told the magazine. "It's hard to imagine these monkeys, who were not adults, were terminal for some reason."
To add to Neuralink's problems, an ethics group known as the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine has sent letters to the US Securities Exchange Commission (SEC), demanding that it investigate Musk's suspect claims.
"They are claiming they are going to put a safe device on the market, and that's why you should invest," Ryan Merkley at the Physicians Committee, told Wired. "And we see his lie as a way to whitewash what happened in these exploratory studies."
The committee's case hinges on the argument that Musk's posts on X count as a source of investor news, which given his follower count north of 150 million on the platform, is arguably reasonable. Musk's tweets have reach — and consequences — whether he's willing to accept them or not.
For now, we'll have to wait and see what the SEC makes of the committee's findings, but we shudder to think of the impact these implants could have on humans, should the trials proceed, given what we've learned.