Elon Musk’s Neuralink experiments on animals are outdated and unjustifiable

In an opinion article published in the New York Daily News on March 14, 2002, and reprinted below, CAARE’s president Barbara Stagno, calls out the invasive and cruel experiments experiments at Elon Musk’s company Neuralink, that attempted to develop a brain computer interface (BCI), as backwards and unnecessary, pointing to more than a decade of extensive research to develop BCI’s using human volunteers.


Also reprinted below is the response by the Foundation for Biomedical Research, and CAARE's response to FBR.

Elon Musk, monkeys and our human responsibility

By Barbara Stagno
New York Daily News                                                                                              March 14, 2022 

The recent investigation by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine into brain experiments on monkeys at Elon Musk’s Neuralink exposes an ugly world of invasive research on animals that is unfortunately widespread.

People were shocked — and they should be — to learn that monkeys were made to suffer by having portions of their skulls removed to implant recording devices and headposts to keep them restrained for many hours.

What they don’t know is that similar experiments are happening at labs across the nation, including here in New York City. In a laboratory at Rockefeller University, two monkeys, referred to as M1 and M2, spend their lives having their brains mapped to facilitate advances in facial recognition. These sentient individuals are effectively turned into recording devices; they have undergone multiple brain surgeries to insert cranial implants and an attached headpost, followed by surgeries to implant electrodes for studies.

M1 and M2 demonstrate their extreme intelligence by detecting normal from distorted faces, while they are confined in body restraints and motivated to comply for a small “reward” of juice, while electrodes record their brain activity.

The researchers claim their work may help human patients with neurological disorders, while Elon Musk claims the Neuralink experiments are needed to develop a brain-computer interface to help paralyzed people.

How disappointing that this entrepreneur, known for his cutting-edge work on space travel, electric cars, solar energy and other innovations, does not seem aware that exciting work in this field is already being carried out successfully with human patients.

Brain-computer interfaces (BCI) are not new and are being developed based on ethical human research. Scientists at the University of Pittsburgh Brain Institute are working to develop BCIs, including one that helped a paralyzed man experience touch through a robotic arm that he controls with his brain.

This breakthrough was built on years of work at Pitt which previously enabled a quadriplegic woman to feed herself chocolate using a mind-controlled robotic arm, and a man paralyzed in a motorcycle accident to touch his girlfriend’s hand.

At Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center, researchers are working with Batelle’s NeuroLife technology to enable a paralyzed man to move his real arm — not a robotic one — and feel what he is touching.

These innovations are not limited to movement and sensation. In 2016, a woman in the Netherlands, paralyzed by ALS, was able to speak using a computer following surgery to implant a BCI, the result of years of research by the UMC Utrecht Brain Center.

Like Neuralink, the research at Rockefeller University does not require invasive brain studies with monkeys to study what we can learn from ethical human research. Working with four human volunteers, researchers at Carnegie Mellon University used an advanced brain imaging tool called magnetoencephalography to determine how the brain rapidly distinguishes faces.

The fact is 21st century technology allows scientists to carry out amazing, breakthrough work without harming animals.

In a blog post defending their research, Neuralink admitted that several monkeys died as a result of these experiments. Two, which they claim were used in prior research, were scheduled for “terminal procedures,” which euphemistically means that they were used up after a life as experimental subjects.

While Neuralink uses carefully crafted wording to conceal the real story, it’s obvious that these monkeys experienced practices that would never be tolerated as part of a human study. Neuralink admits four out of six monkeys had to be euthanized due to post-surgical infections, which, according to PCRM’s investigation, resulted in months of suffering.

Try to imagine a hospital with that kind of track record. They would be shut down in no time.

This is why we must work to end animal experiments in favor of ethical human research. The guidelines and standards for human clinical research inevitably answer to a higher standard than animal research will ever be held.

Animals can never give informed consent. Which is why human volunteers don’t have headposts implanted into their skulls to subject them to restraint because they are willing participants, serving in a study that is likely to benefit themselves and fellow human patients.

Two laws are currently pending in Congress that have great potential to change the current paradigm of animals as default research tools. The FDA Modernization Act would eliminate an archaic requirement mandating animal testing. And The Humane Research and Testing Act would establish a dedicated center within the National Institutes of Health to promote research with non-animal, human-relevant methods. These bills deserve our support.

We have a wealth of modern tools that allow scientists to delve into human medicine without the cruel enterprise of animal research. This must be our future. And theirs.

Stagno is president and executive director of Citizens for Alternatives to Animal Research and Experimentation and deputy director of humane science at Center for a Humane Economy.

The Foundation for Biomedical Research published a response.

Research on monkeys is regulated and necessary

New York Daily News        March 19, 2022

Regarding “Elon Musk, monkeys and our human responsibility” (op-ed, March 14): Four decades ago, scientists mapped the neuronal structure of the macaque monkey brain and subsequently applied deep brain stimulation (DBS) to brain regions tied to symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. It worked. The monkeys had markedly reduced symptoms. The first human DBS procedure proved successful. Today, more than 160,000 patients worldwide have undergone successful DBS for Parkinson’s and other neurological disorders.

In some research, monkeys can be replaced by other animal models at certain stages. In neurodegenerative and neurodevelopmental disease research, monkeys can seldom be replaced because they are the only species with a prefrontal cortex similar to humans. A small portion of this research is invasive. By law, pain must be kept at a minimum and post-operative pain care must be provided except when the study precludes it. Researchers are developing brain-computer interfaces with the help of research monkeys in the hopes of helping patients live better. Companies must test them to ensure they are as safe and effective as possible before implanting them in human clinical trial participants. When Neuralink conducted initial research and testing in 2017, the company was aware of the risks and selected monkeys that had a wide range of pre-existing conditions and low quality of life.

If monkeys become unnecessary to study and treat neurological diseases, researchers will embrace alternative methods. That day has not come yet. Rather than embracing a tunnel vision against animal research that is being perpetuated by animal rights activists, we should try to take a step outside of our comfort zone to better understand the incredible workings of science. 

Eva C. Maciejewski, director of communications and media relations, Foundation for Biomedical Research


CAARE's response to FBR was subsequently published.

Make animal testing obsolete and serve humans

New York Daily News        March 30, 2022

Eva Maciejewski’s letter representing the Foundation for Biomedical Research (FBR) is typical of the rhetoric issued by organizations that lobby for animal experimentation. Responding to my article on Neuralink’s unjustified use of monkeys to develop a brain-computer interface (“Elon Musk, monkeys and our human responsibility,” op-ed, March 14), it ignores the vast volume of work affirming the limitations of animals in achieving human cures.

The area of nervous system disorders is of note as it has the highest failure rate for new drugs. This was the focus of a 2017 report by the National Academy of Scienceswhich devoted an entire chapter on “Therapeutic Development for Parkinson’s Disease and Schizophrenia in the Absence of Predictive Animal Models of Disease.” The NAS also convened a series of workshops on this issue to discuss how to improve drug development for neurological disease using advances in human genetics and other innovations, given the lack of effective animal models.

As an example, recent research using 3D models made from human cells is the first to model the progressive loss of dopamine-producing neurons that is seen in Parkinson’s disease.

Rather than lobbying for outdated animal experiments, FBR should be applauding those who are working diligently to advance human medicine while sparing animals unnecessary suffering.

Barbara Stagno, president, Citizens for Alternatives to Animal Research and Experimentation

Showing 1 reaction

  • Barbara Stagno
    published this page in Issues 2022-03-31 12:55:37 -0400