AUSTIN (KXAN) — On Wednesday, protesters with the Physicians Committee on Responsible Medicine lined up outside of Austin City Hall to call attention to testing on animals at Neuralink’s testing facilities, which has resulted in several monkeys dying.
In addition to the protest, the group is paying for ads to run inside all of Capital Metro’s 400 buses, along with a full wrap around two of them.
“We have two huge bus ads. These are 60 foot long ads. And they say, ‘Elon Musk, release the videos. What are you hiding?'” Ryan Merkley with Physicians Committee told KXAN Wednesday.
Those ads are referring to videos from a Neuralink testing site in California a couple years ago.
“We’re currently suing the University of California Davis, where Neuralink funded experiments on monkeys. The university refuses to release videotapes and photographs,” Merkley said.
Neuralink, owned by Elon Musk, is a company aiming to create brain-machine interfaces to connect humans and computers. Essentially, it’s putting a chip in your brain to control your smart devices.
The Physicians Committee said if the public saw what was actually happening at these facilities, there would be more outrage.
“They have to restrain monkeys on chairs, they open their head, connected medical devices to their head, a lot of them die from infectious diseases. We believe that if people really see the real face of animal experimentation, they don’t want it,” Faraz Harsini, a volunteer for Physicians Committee and a biopharmaceutical scientist, said Wednesday.
Harsini said there are ways to conduct testing without animals.
“We have a technology we can show that it’s safer, it’s more human relevant. So we can use human tissues. We can use human volunteers, micro-dosing, cadavers, advanced imaging systems, all of that,” Harsini said.
But, while Neuralink says on its website it hopes in the future not to test on animals first, the technology just isn’t there yet.
“We also look forward to a day where animals are no longer necessary for medical research. Yet our society currently relies on medical breakthroughs to cure diseases, prevent the spread of viruses, and create technology that can change how people are able to interact with the world. However, if animals must be used in research in the meantime, their lives and experiences should be as vital and naturalistic as possible,” the website states.
It also clarifies the monkeys that died in its care were part of its first round of testing, and had many pre-existing conditions.
“Terminal procedures involve the humane euthanasia of an anesthetized animal at the completion of the surgery. Animals that fall into this category have been deemed by the veterinary staff to be healthy enough for one anesthetic event but may not have proper quality of life due to a pre-existing condition. Performing initial surgeries on cadavers and terminal procedures ensures that an animal does not potentially suffer post-operatively in the event the test procedure has an unexpected result,” the website reads.
“These animals were assigned to our project on the day of the surgery for our terminal procedure because they had a wide range of pre-existing conditions unrelated to our research…The initial work from these procedures allowed us to develop our novel surgical and robot procedures, establishing safer protocols for subsequent survival surgeries. Survival studies then allowed us to test the function of different generations of implanted devices as we refined them towards human use,” the website states.
In total, eight monkeys were euthanized during this first round of testing, according to Neuralink.
“All animal work done at UC Davis was approved by their Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC) as mandated by Federal law, and all medical and post-surgical support, including endpoint decisions were overseen by their dedicated and skilled veterinary staff,” the website notes.
The Physicians Committee also wrote a letter to Mayor Steve Adler, asking him to investigate the company and withdraw any incentives the city may have offered, as construction on a facility in Del Valle continues.
“[Neuralink] purchased land in Dell Valle last year through a shell company, only through public records requests and a lot of digging, did we discover that the treasurer of that shell company is a Neuralink employee,” Merkley stated.
“It’s clear from public records that this facility is under construction. It’s being operated by people involved with Neuralink, whether or not that that’s going to be Neuralink’s actual facility is a big question. But it’s clear that they are building a facility that is going to house animals,” he continued.
In a statement, the city’s Economic Development Department told KXAN, “The City of Austin has no economic development incentive agreement with Neuralink.”
Records of such agreements can be found online here.