Unlocking the Diseases of the Brain

Guest blog by Carl Sherman

One evening last week, I met the mini-brain.

I was introduced to this intriguing concept by three scientists who know it intimately, at a presentation on “Unlocking Diseases of the Brain with Stem Cells,” at the headquarters of the New York Stem Cell Foundation (NYSCF).

Melissa J. Nirenberg, M.D., Ph.D., NYSCF’s chief medical officer, introduced the subject from the perspective of a neurologist with 20 years’ experience, primarily with patients with Parkinson’s disease and other movement disorders.

“It was frustrating,” she said. While treatment can attenuate some symptoms for some patients, “we don’t have anything to offer them to halt or even slow disease progression.” The same goes for Alzheimer’s. “That’s why I’m here. At NYSCF, we’re focusing on treating the underlying disorders.”

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Image: Shutterstock

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Neurotechnology and the Military

“Every generation has been trying to figure out how to use brain-related technology to improve security,” from caffeine to computer enhancement, bioethicist Jonathan Moreno, Ph.D., said at the Capitol Hill briefing “Neurotechnology and the Military” last week. Moreno and neuroscientist Leigh Hochberg, M.D., Ph.D., had teamed up to give a similar presentation at a luncheon six years ago, and on Friday the two brought us up to date.

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Leigh Hochberg used video clips to show how BrainGate works (photo courtesy of The Society for Neuroscience).

Thanks to a half-century of federally funded basic research, researchers have developed a chip carrying 144 electrodes that can be inserted into people’s skulls (over the motor cortex) and send impulses to computers to drive a cursor or a mechanical object, said Hochberg, the director of the Center for Neurotechnology and Neurorecovery at Massachusetts General Hospital and a professor at Brown University and Harvard Medical School.

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Neuroethics Society Meeting: Ethical Consumer Neurotechnologies

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Karola Kreitmair

The capabilities of neurotechnologies are revolutionizing the path of treatment and prevention for certain illnesses. As they continue to evolve, it’s become necessary for doctors and patients to consider the ethical quandaries that arise with the use of brain-interfacing devices.

“We are at a place where we are unlocking more and more data about peoples’ brains and behaviors, and developing more ways of affecting our brains,” neuroethicist Karola Kreitmair said in an interview with the International Neuroethics Society (INS) back in August. “It’s important that we have an ethical actor at the table to shape that future.”

Kreitmair was this year’s Rising Star Plenary Lecturer at the INS meeting, following a panel presentation on the ethics of neuroscience and neurotechnology. She addressed shared concerns brought up by the three panelists in her lecture, “The Seven Requirements for Ethical Consumer Neurotechnologies.”

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Neuroethics Society Meeting: Environmental Factors Impacting the Developing Brain

It’s not just genetics, it’s not just diet—many factors contribute to healthy brain development in people, which continues until about 25 years of age. At yesterday’s International Neuroethics Society (INS) panel, “The Brain in Context,” three neuroscientists talked about different aspects of the physical and social environments that can affect the developing brain.

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Even before a baby is born, in utero processes can have long-term effects on brain development. Panelist Moriah Thomason of Wayne State University uses fMRI to study how the different regions of the fetal brain communicate with each other. In a longitudinal, Detroit-based study, she and her colleagues found that babies born pre-term show less brain connectivity than those born full-term. Of particular note, a small area on the left side of the brain associated with language processing showed weaker connectivity with other brain areas.

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International Neuroethics Society Interviews: Making Way for Truth and Technology

As we look forward to the 2017 International Neuroethics Society (INS) Annual Meeting in Washington, DC, November 9-10, we’ll be bringing you a sneak peek of what to expect through a series of interviews with some of the meetings’ speakers. Registration for the meeting is now open, and an early bird discount is in effect until September 30.

First published in the INS Newsletter:

KK_INSblogTo recognize young talent in the field of neuroethics, the INS is hosting a “rising star” plenary lecture at the 2017 Annual Meeting. The goal is to showcase an individual who has made a significant contribution to the field of neuroethics beyond expectations at his or her career level.

This year’s designee is Karola Kreitmair. As a philosopher, researcher, and playwright, Kreitmair holds great promise for scholarship and leadership in neuroethics and for the INS. Her lecture will discuss the opportunities and challenges associated with mobile and wearable health technology in clinical practice, research, and everyday life. In the following interview, Kreitmair talks about her research background, career goals, and shares some words of encouragement for future rising stars.

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