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Neuralink patient said he asked about reports of botched brain-chip surgeries on monkeys

Elon Musk's neural interface technology company Neuralink euthanized a monkey (not pictured) after their implants ruptured her brain, per records obtained by Wired.
Elon Musk's company has faced criticism from an animal rights group for animal testing of its brain implant.Joel Saget/AFP via Getty Images; Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
  • Noland Arbaugh, Neuralink's first patient, dismissed reports of animal mistreatment during testing.

  • Arbaugh said he even asked Neuralink staff about reports of monkeys suffering during testing.

  • Neuralink aims to create devices that facilitate symbiosis between humans and machines.

Neuralink's first patient, Noland Arbaugh, said he did his research before he decided to get the brain implant, including looking into the reports of animal testing gone awry.

"I read a lot of the negative stuff about this before the surgery — about all the terrible things that y'all are putting the monkeys through and how awful it was, monkeys like picking out their implant and rubbing it on the ground and all sorts of stuff that just after talking with the monkey people today I realized how just wrong all that is," Arbaugh said during an all-hands meeting with Neuralink staff that was later posted on X.

"I'm glad I asked because now anyone that asks me about it I can just say 'Y'all are a bunch of idiots,'" he added, joking that the monkeys were actually treated better than him.

A spokesperson for Neuralink did not immediately respond to a request for comment ahead of publication.

Before Elon Musk's company Neuralink began human testing, the company shared demos of monkeys and pig test subjects using the implant.

In 2022, a medical group advocating for animal rights said it had found records indicating animals at Neuralink's former testing facility at UC Davis had undergone "extreme suffering."

At the time, Neuralink responded to the accusations, denying several of the injuries that the animal rights group reported and saying the company is "absolutely committed to working with animals in the most humane and ethical way possible." The company said it has since transitioned to using its own in-house facilities.

In 2022, Reuters reported that the US Department of Agriculture was looking into reports of mistreatment of the animals used in testing the device. In July 2023, the agency said it only found one violation in 2019, which the agency described as an "adverse surgical event." A Neuralink surgeon had "used a sealant to close holes drilled into a monkey's skull that had not been approved by the animal research oversight panel," Reuters said. Neuralink had already reported the issue, according to the Reuters report.

That same year, Wired published new details related to the allegations, which included an alleged incident from 2019 involving a monkey — an incident that Arbaugh may have been referring to:

For example, in an experimental surgery that took place in December 2019, performed to determine the "survivability" of an implant, an internal part of the device "broke off" while being implanted. Overnight, researchers observed the monkey, identified only as "Animal 20" by UC Davis, scratching at the surgical site, which emitted a bloody discharge, and yanking on a connector that eventually dislodged part of the device. A surgery to repair the issue was carried out the following day, yet fungal and bacterial infections took root. Vet records note that neither infection was likely to be cleared, in part because the implant was covering the infected area. The monkey was euthanized on January 6, 2020.

Musk has said that Neuralink used "terminal monkeys" in its early testing.

"No monkey has died as a result of a Neuralink implant," Musk wrote on X in September.

For his part, Arbaugh said in the company all-hands that while Neuralink's process was "crazy fast," the company put his "mind at ease" and he was not worried about any medical repercussions going into the surgery. It took the brain-computer interface (BCI) startup only about 5 months from Arbaugh's application date to set up his surgery, Arbaugh said.

Overall, Arbaugh has been extremely positive about the experience. However, the Neuralink patient said he could "feel" the implant in his head, especially if it gets bumped.

"It's hard to describe something in your brain," Arbaugh said. "There's something in your brain so you can feel it a bit, but not as much as I would have thought. I would have thought it was just like a feeling that you have constantly and it just doesn't go away."

Neuralink began recruiting for human trials last year and unveiled its first human patient earlier this month.

The company says it hopes to eventually make a device that will create a sort of symbiosis between humans and machines and will allow people to send messages or play games using only their thoughts. But first, Neuralink has said it hopes to help people with neurological disorders and quadriplegia.

To date, Neuralink has said Arbaugh has been able to do all manner of things with his brain implant, including tweeting and playing video games using only his mind as the controller.

Have you applied to Neuralink's human trials or do you have insight to share? Reach out to the reporter from a non-work email and device at gkay@businessinsider.com

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