Washington: Regarding “Elon Musk, monkeys and our human responsibility” (op-ed, March 14): Four decades ago, scientists mapped the neuronal structure of the macaque monkey brain and subsequently applied deep brain stimulation (DBS) to brain regions tied to symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. It worked. The monkeys had markedly reduced symptoms. The first human DBS procedure proved successful. Today, more than 160,000 patients worldwide have undergone successful DBS for Parkinson’s and other neurological disorders.
In some research, monkeys can be replaced by other animal models at certain stages. In neurodegenerative and neurodevelopmental disease research, monkeys can seldom be replaced because they are the only species with a prefrontal cortex similar to humans. A small portion of this research is invasive. By law, pain must be kept at a minimum and post-operative pain care must be provided except when the study precludes it. Researchers are developing brain-computer interfaces with the help of research monkeys in the hopes of helping patients live better. Companies must test them to ensure they are as safe and effective as possible before implanting them in human clinical trial participants. When Neuralink conducted initial research and testing in 2017, the company was aware of the risks and selected monkeys that had a wide range of pre-existing conditions and low quality of life.
If monkeys become unnecessary to study and treat neurological diseases, researchers will embrace alternative methods. That day has not come yet. Rather than embracing a tunnel vision against animal research that is being perpetuated by animal rights activists, we should try to take a step outside of our comfort zone to better understand the incredible workings of science.
Eva C. Maciejewski, director of communications and media relations, Foundation for Biomedical Research
This letter to the editor originally appeared in the New York Daily News.
(Featured image credit: Screenshot / Neuralink / YouTube)