In the second federal probe into Elon Musk’s brain-computer interface company, Neuralink has been accused of shipping contaminated brain implants taken from diseased monkeys, in violation of transport regulations. As reported by Reuters, the allegations were made by the Physicians Committee of Responsible Medicine (PCRM), an animal welfare group, to the Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg, who is now investigating the matter further.
If the chips had come close to transplantation into humans, they could have caused serious disease, say the group.
The allegations come from emails and documents that the PCRM claim to show unsafe packaging and transportation of the chips, which have now been handed over to the US Department of Transportation (USDoT).
"We are conducting an investigation to ensure that Neuralink is in full compliance with federal regulations and keeping their workers and the public safe from potentially dangerous pathogens," the USDoT spokesperson said to Reuters.
While the Neuralink packages are labelled “hazardous”, PCRM claim they are not sealed or disinfected prior to movement, allowing for the transmission of diseases from the test monkeys. In the wake of a pandemic that may have been caused by animal-to-human transmission, such a violation would be a big deal.
“Since the hardware components of the explanted neural device are not sealed and it was not disinfected prior to leaving the [university], this presents a hazard for anyone potentially coming in contact with the device. Simply labeling it ‘hazardous’ doesn’t account for the risk of potentially contracting Herpes B,” a UC Davis employee wrote to Neuralink, according to a PCRM press release.
The records supposedly show the transportation of multiple serious pathogens, including antibiotic-resistant Staphylococcus and herpes B virus, without following standard decontamination protocols.
Neuralink had not responded to the complaints at the time of writing.
This is not the first time Neuralink has landed in hot water, after a federal investigation was opened into alleged animal welfare breaches from the UC Davis Neuralink lab. Among the allegations were an incredibly high number of test animal deaths, which were blamed on high pressure to deliver results within the company. Neuralink has since ended their contract with UC Davis, but PCRM claims the neurosurgeon implicated is still employed there.