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  1. News Release

  2. Feb 9, 2023

Physicians Group: Elon Musk’s Neuralink May Have Violated Federal Hazmat Law by Transporting Pathogens from “Infected” Monkeys Killed in Experiments

Newly Released Public Records Detail Movement of “Contaminated Hardware”

WASHINGTON, D.C.—A national physicians group is asking U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) Secretary Pete Buttigieg to investigate Elon Musk’s brain implant company Neuralink for violations of federal hazardous material laws. Public records recently obtained by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, a medical ethics nonprofit, reveal that untrained Neuralink employees transported “contaminated” devices that had been removed from the brains of “infected” monkeys without safely packaging them. The incidents, which occurred in 2019, raised concerns by staff at the University of California, Davis, where Neuralink conducted invasive, deadly experiments on rhesus macaques until 2020. 

In one email, a UC Davis employee wrote to Neuralink: “Since the hardware components of the explanted neural device are not sealed and it was not disinfected prior to leaving the [university], this presents a hazard for anyone potentially coming in contact with the device. Simply labeling it ‘hazardous’ doesn’t account for the risk of potentially contracting Herpes B.” Later, a UC Davis employee wrote that “devices had made their way back [to the university] in an open box,” emphasizing: “we are making a big deal about this because we are concerned for human safety.”

The Physicians Committee previously obtained monkeys’ medical files in response to an ongoing public records lawsuit against UC Davis. Those files suggest that the transported devices may have been contaminated with antibiotic-resistant pathogens including Staphylococcus and Klebsiella, which can cause pneumonia, bloodstream infections, and meningitis. The devices may also have been contaminated with Corynebacterium ulcerans, a recognized “emerging human pathogen” that can produce fatal diphtheria. In addition, the devices came from the brains of monkeys who may have been suffering from bacterial meningitis and may have been infected with Herpes B, which can “lead to severe brain damage or death if you do not get treatment immediately,” according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.

“The records suggest that Neuralink’s sloppy practices pose a danger to public health and safety,” says Deborah Dubow Press, Esq., associate general counsel with the Physicians Committee. “In addition to investigating the incidents at UC Davis, DOT should scrutinize safety practices at Neuralink’s California and Texas facilities where animal experiments are ongoing.”  

Ryan Merkley, director of research advocacy with the Physicians Committee, added: “How many federal agencies need to investigate Musk and Neuralink before they clean up their act?” He pointed to open investigations into the company by the U.S. Department of Justice and U.S. Department of Agriculture Office of Inspector General. In December, the Physicians Committee asked the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to investigate Neuralink for violations of “good laboratory practices” regulations.

The Physicians Committee has previously noted that implanted devices like Neuralink’s come with a myriad of problems, including difficulty repairing them and a high potential for severe medical complications in patients. The group is urging Neuralink to immediately halt its animal experiments and focus on improving noninvasive brain-machine interfaces.

To speak with Ms. Press or Mr. Merkley or to see a copy of the DOT request or the original documents from UC Davis, please contact Reina Pohl at 202-527-7326 or rpohl [at] (rpohl[at]pcrm[dot]org).

Media Contact

Reina Pohl, MPH



Founded in 1985, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine is a nonprofit organization that promotes preventive medicine, conducts clinical research, and encourages higher standards for ethics and effectiveness in education and research.

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