Elon Musk’s Neuralink is under investigation

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A DOT spokesperson confirmed to CNBC that Elon Musk’s brain-computer interface company Neuralink is under investigation by the US Department of Transportation for allegedly packaging and transporting contaminated hardware in an unsafe manner.

In a letter Thursday to Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, the animal-welfare group Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine said it has obtained public records that suggest Neuralink may have contained equipment carrying infectious pathogens that were discovered in 2019. may pose a risk to human health.

The instruments were removed from the brains of nonhuman primates and may be contaminated with viruses such as herpes B and antibiotic-resistant bacteria such as Staphylococcus and Klebsiella, according to the paper. PCRM claimed that materials were not properly stored or transported, possibly because Neuralink employees had not received proper safety training.

A DOT spokesperson told CNBC that it is “standard practice” to investigate alleged violations of hazardous material transportation regulations. The spokesperson said the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, part of the DOT, is conducting “standard checks to ensure compliance and the public safety of workers and the public” based on information received from PCRM.

Representatives for Neuralink did not respond to requests for comment.

Neuralink is one of many companies in the emerging brain-computer interface, or BCI, industry. BCI is a system that senses brain signals and translates them into commands for external technologies, allowing patients to move a cursor, type, and even control a smart home using only their mind. device can be accessed. Several companies have successfully manufactured devices with these capabilities.

Musk, who is also the CEO of Tesla, SpaceX and Twitter co-founded Neuralink in 2016 with a group of scientists and engineers. The company is developing a BCI that is designed to be inserted directly into brain tissue, and while it is not yet testing its device in humans, Musk has said he hopes to do so this year. Is.

Public records obtained by PCRM and reviewed by CNBC include emails exchanged between Neuralink and the University of California, Davis. The company partnered with Neuralink between 2017 and 2020 to help conduct experiments on primates.

In an exchange in March of 2019, a UC Davis employee, whose name has been redacted, wrote in an email that the hardware had been handled improperly, and that hazardous materials needed to be transported by a trained hazardous materials handler .

The employee wrote that UC Davis staffers were “always happy” to package and ship materials if Neuralink employees had not completed the required training.

“Since the hardware components of the discovered neural device are not sealed and were not disinfected prior to leaving the Primate Center, it presents a hazard Any potentially coming in contact with the device,” the UC Davis employee said in the email. “Simply labeling it ‘dangerous’ does not account for the risk of potentially contracting herpes B.”

In another instance in April of 2019, a UC Davis employee, whose name has been redacted, wrote in an email that three discovered devices came in “open boxes with no secondary containers.” The staffer noted that the unchecked, monkey-contaminated hardware put primate center members at risk.

“This is a risk to anyone coming into contact with the hardware detected as contaminated and we are making a big deal about this because we are concerned for human safety,” the employee said in the email.

PCRM obtained these records from UC Davis through a public information request. Since Neuralink is a private company, it is not subject to public records laws. Representatives for UC Davis did not respond to requests for comment.

The PCRM opposes the use of animal testing in medical research, and the group has previously raised concerns about Neuralink. In February 2022, the group filed a complaint with the US Department of Agriculture alleging that Neuralink had violated the Animal Welfare Act during its partnership with UC Davis. According to a Reuters report, the complaint was forwarded to the USDA inspector general, who has reportedly launched a federal investigation into the company.

The advocacy group in December asked the US Food and Drug Administration to investigate Neuralink for violating good laboratory practices.

Representatives for the USDA and the FDA did not respond to requests for comment.

Ryan Merkley, director of research advocacy at PCRM, told CNBC that the DOT’s latest investigation shows that Neuralink is being “sloppy in a whole new way.” He said there is no evidence that anyone was infected through exposure to the hardware, but the concerned tone of UC Davis personnel in the email “reflects the seriousness of this potential pathogen leak.”

“It’s a whole different thing that obviously affects not only the animals involved, but the people who work at Neuralink, the people who work at UC Davis, and everyone they come in contact with, ” They said.

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