Recent reports have suggested that the majority of committee members overseeing animal testing at Neuralink possess financial interests in the brain-machine startup. Neuralink has been conducting animal trials as it seeks to secure permission to start human trials.
Elon Musk mentioned last year that Neuralink is hoping to secure permission for human trials in about six months, which translated then to around June 2023. Musk shared his estimate during Neuralink’s Show and Tell Fall 2022 event.
Federal law requires animal research facilities to establish a regulatory board known as the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC). As per an internal document obtained by Reuters, 19 of the 22 committee members at Neuralink also happened to be company employees as of last year.
While the law only requires one unaffiliated member, Dr. Miguel Nicolelis, a brain implant researcher at Duke University, noted that there is a conflict of interest within Neuralink’s IACUC. “It’s an obvious conflict of interest,” Dr. Nicolelis said.
The alleged conflict of interest among Neuralink’s IACUC members arises from the fact that employees typically hold equity in the company. As per the publication, some senior staff members at Neuralink could potentially earn millions if regulators approve the company’s brain implant. And while giving company shares to employees is not unusual for a Musk-led endeavor, a dozen animal research and bioethics experts told Reuters that it is unusual for IACUC members to have direct financial interests.
Neuralink did not immediately comment on the matter. It should also be noted that the committee’s composition might have changed since last year.
Neuralink has not been immune to criticism, especially with regards to its animal testing practices. Last February, an animal rights group filed a complaint with the Department of Agriculture, alleging that monkeys used in the company’s research experienced “extreme suffering” due to insufficient care and invasive head implants.
The brain-machine startup opposed the group’s allegations, with the startup publishing a blog post emphasizing its commitment to the humane and ethical treatment of animals, stating, “At Neuralink, we are absolutely committed to working with animals in the most humane and ethical way possible,” the company said.
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