The US Transportation Department is investigating Elon Musk’s brain implant company, Neuralink Corp., after an animal rights group said it obtained emails suggesting the startup did not follow proper procedure when shipping possibly hazardous materials.
The group alleged that Neuralink took potentially contaminated devices from sickened primates and transported them without following proper procedures in 2019. The organization cites emails obtained via public record request showing correspondence between Neuralink staff and employees at the University of California at Davis. At the time, Neuralink had contracted with UC Davis for primate research. It now has its own in-house primate facilities.
The Pipelines and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, part of the Transportation Department, said it took the allegations seriously. “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 agency said in a statement.
Representatives for Neuralink did not respond to request for comment. Reuters earlier reported news of the investigation.
The animal welfare group, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, wrote in a letter on Thursday addressed to Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg that Neuralink had engaged in “sloppy, unsafe laboratory practices.”
A device from the brain of a monkey who was killed in March 2019 may have been transported without Neuralink following correct procedures, the group claimed, potentially risking transmission of a deadly herpes virus. The report also alleged that in April 2019, three devices that had been used in monkey brains before being removed and moved off-site were found back at the university’s Primate Center, in an open box with no secondary container, a violation of regulation.
“This is an exposure to anyone coming in contact with the contaminated explanted hardware and we are making a big deal about this because we are concerned for human safety,” a Primate Center employee wrote in an email cited in the documents.
Learn how to navigate and strengthen trust in your business with The Trust Factor, a weekly newsletter examining what leaders need to succeed. Sign up here.