DAVIS, Calif.—The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine—a national nonprofit with more than 17,000 doctor members—filed a complaint with the USDA today against the University of California, Davis, for violations of the federal Animal Welfare Act related to invasive and deadly brain experiments conducted on 23 monkeys. UC Davis received more than $1.4 million from Elon Musk’s company Neuralink to carry out the experiments. The complaint is based on almost 600 pages of disturbing documents released only after the Physicians Committee filed an initial public records lawsuit in 2021. Also today, the Physicians Committee filed a second public records lawsuit in Yolo County Superior Court to compel the university to release videos and photographs of the monkeys. Most of the animals had portions of their skulls removed to implant electrodes in their brains as part of Neuralink’s development of a “brain-machine interface.”
The Physician Committee points out in its complaint that Neuralink and UC Davis staff failed to provide dying monkeys with adequate veterinary care, used an unapproved substance known as “Bioglue” that killed monkeys by destroying portions of their brains, and failed to provide for the psychological well-being of monkeys assigned to the experiment. Macaque monkeys used in the experiment were caged alone, had steel posts screwed to their skulls, suffered “facial trauma,” seizures following brain implants, and recurring infections at implant sites. In some cases, as a result of deteriorating health, Neuralink and UC Davis euthanized monkeys before they were even used in the planned experiment.
“UC Davis may have handed over its publicly-funded facilities to a billionaire, but that doesn’t mean it can evade transparency requirements and violate federal animal welfare laws,” says Jeremy Beckham, MPA, MPH, research advocacy coordinator with the Physicians Committee. “The documents reveal that monkeys had their brains mutilated in shoddy experiments and were left to suffer and die. It’s no mystery why Elon Musk and the university want to keep photos and videos of this horrific abuse hidden from the public.”
The university has refused to release photos and videos, claiming that the records belong to Neuralink, a private company not subject to California’s Public Records Act. The Physicians Committee argues that work conducted and materials created at public facilities are subject to the California Public Records Act and must be disclosed.
“UC Davis cannot shield a private company from public scrutiny,” says Deborah Dubow Press, Esq., associate general counsel with the Physicians Committee. “Photos and videos of animals housed and experimented on in a public institution are public records. Neuralink can’t avail itself of public resources but evade public accountability.”
For a copy of the USDA complaint, the open records lawsuit, the veterinary records, or to speak with Mr. Beckham or Ms. Press, please contact Reina Pohl at 202-527-7326 or rpohl [at] pcrm.org.