An animal rights group wants the University of California Davis to release nearly 400 photos of test monkeys they claim were tortured and abused during testing for Elon Musk’s Neuralink brain computer interface company.
In a press release, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine said its ongoing lawsuit surfaced 371 photos related to the monkey experiments, with 185 of them allegedly related to autopsies of monkeys that died during the procedures. The other 186 photos are reportedly related to experiments conducted on the monkeys. Previous reports claim 15 monkeys died at one UC Davis test facility between 2017 and 2020.
For those catching up, The Physicians Committee filed a legal complaint with The U.S. Department of Agriculture earlier this year which provided horrifying accounts of Neuralink monkeys allegedly having their skulls pried open to insert electrodes for Neuralink brain devices. Some of the monkeys equipped with the devices allegedly experienced extreme vomiting and exhaustion while others, overcome by stress, allegedly mutilated themselves, according to a New York Post report. Others reportedly developed skin infections after having their skulls drilled open.
Though the rights groups claims UC Davis revealed the images’ existence in a recent legal filing, they said the university’s attorney wants to keep them under wraps, arguing their content could be misunderstood by the public. An attorney for the Physicians Committee argued the photos are actually public records since the university receives public funding and relies on public employees to conduct experiments.
“These photos are public records created with public funds, and the public deserves access to the research they paid for,” Physicians Committee Associate General Counsel Deborah Dubow said.
UC David did not immediately respond to Gizmodo’s request for comment about these claims, though it previously released a statement defending its reported $1.4 million partnership with Neuralink. The two ceased working together in 2020.
“Regarding the lawsuit by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, we fully complied with the California Public Records Act in responding to their request,” UC Davis said in February. “Indeed, additional materials have been supplied to PCRM since the conclusion of the research agreement with Neuralink.”
Neuralink also vigorously defended itself earlier this year, releasing a lengthy statement saying it’s committed to working with animals, “in the most humane and ethical way possible.” In that same statement, Neuralink tried to throw water on the Physicians Committee complaint, claiming they are an absolutist organization opposed to any types of animal testing. To that end, the Physicians Committee has reportedly advocated for veganism and alternatives to animal testing and has received some funding from PETA, according to The Guardian.
And while Neuralink did not respond to Gizmodo’s request for comment, its previous statement did note it left UC Davis in 2020 partly to improve overall facility standards.
“While the facilities and care at UC Davis did and continue to meet federally mandated standards, we absolutely wanted to improve upon these standards as we transitioned animals to our in-house facilities,” the company said.
In addition to the alleged photos, the Physicians Committee says UC Davis legal documents revealed over 600 pages depicting test monkeys suffering seizures, chronic infections, and side effects from the Neuralink device. They cite documents claiming experimenters reportedly used an unapproved adhesive called BioGlue to fill the holes in the monkey’s brain following surgery. Some of that glue, according to the Physicians’ Committee, allegedly seeped into the monkey’s brains.
“UC Davis thinks the public is too stupid to know what they’re looking at,” Physicians Committee Director of Research Advocacy Ryan Merkley, said. “But it’s clear the university is simply trying to hide from taxpayers the fact that it partnered with Elon Musk to conduct experiments in which animals suffered and died.”