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To speak out or not to speak out?

I applaud Elon Musk and Neuralink for their recent blog post about their work involving research animals, particularly monkeys. Biomedical and behavioral research institutions in this country would be wise to take a lesson. Musk, and his company Neuralink, recently came under fire from one of a number of anti-animal research extremist organizations when they accused Neuralink of animal welfare abuses. Neuralink recently joined the 25+ year effort of neuroscientists and engineers, to develop brain-computer interfaces, a technology that promises to help people suffering with impaired mobility due to paralysis, stroke, Lou Gehrig’s disease (or ALS) and other neurological ailments that affect movement.

As all biomedical technology currently in use, the development of brain-computer interfaces (BCI) for use in humans depends critically on animal models. For BCI, a genus of Old World monkey, the macaque, is particularly crucial in light of this animals’ extraordinary visual and motor capabilities, sharing many features of our own. Macaque monkeys also share many features of our immune system, which is why this genus of animals plays such an important role in the development of life-saving COVID-19 vaccines.

Science by its very nature, depends on failure as well as success. Experiments do not always work, new procedures take time to develop and refine and it is physically and emotionally demanding. Anti-animal research extremists will have everyone believe that people who perform research with animals are heartless and uncaring or even incompetent. Nothing could be further from the truth and the statement released by Neuralink exposes the truth about animal research. Researchers and veterinarians who work in laboratory settings care deeply about the animals they work with and provide exceptional care for them.

Neuralink took a chance in making this public statement – they put themselves at risk of harassment and intimidation by members of groups opposed to biomedical research that depends upon animals. What I believe Neuralink also did, was clear a path for all of us to stand up and speak out on behalf of all the hard-working people who care deeply about animals and work hard in pursuit of new knowledge and medical advancements that will help humans and animals alike. It’s high time other research institutions follow the lead of Neuralink and speak the truth about our important work.

Michele A. Basso, PhD