Neuroethics and the BRAIN Initiative

brain-initiative-neuroethicsNeuroscience “is the science that is going to change the way people live, die, and think about themselves,” said Stanford Law professor Hank Greely during the third annual BRAIN Initiative investigators meeting, held in Bethesda, Md., last week. Research into the workings of the brain raises many ethical questions, some common to bioethics and others—such as questions of agency, consciousness, and identity—that are unique to the brain and central nervous system.

Neuroethics has been mentioned from the first public announcement of the Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative in 2013; a BRAINI workgroup is devoted to the topic. It is one of nine BRAIN Initiative priority funding areas for the coming fiscal year (grant info). At this meeting, a regular session was devoted to the topic, featuring five of the members of the workgroup, and it also came up in other sessions.

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From the Archives: Neuroethics

The field of neuroethics has come a long way fast. This month, as part of the 2013 federal BRAIN Initiative, the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues released its first report, Gray Matters: Integrative Approaches for Neuroscience, Ethics, and Society. Only a dozen years ago, more than 150 scientists, philosophers, lawyers, and other policy experts were meeting in San Francisco at the first formal conference to “project the boundaries, define the issues, and raise the initial questions appropriate to a field that probes the ethical implications of advances in brain science.”

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Bioethics Commission Calls for Weaving Neuroscience Ethics into School, Research

In addition to money for research, the federal Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative included a request to review the ethical issues around neuroscience research and the ethical implications of what researchers may discover.  Last week, the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues released its first report, Gray Matters: Integrative Approaches for Neuroscience, Ethics, and Society. It focuses on research; a second report will focus on implications.

The commission recommends that questions and discussion of ethics should be integrated at every stage of science research: learning science in schools, planning and performing studies, through to publishing and discussing results.  Here’s the 4-point summary (from pp. 43–5 of the report):

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First BRAINI Blueprint

Accepting the interim report of the institute’s working committee, National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins approved initial areas of high-priority brain research to guide funding based on the BRAIN (Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies) Initiative. The initiative was announced in April by President Obama, who called for a total of $110 million in the 2014 fiscal year budget to support the effort, of which $40 million is expected to be allocated by NIH.

“It’s a great blueprint for getting started,” Collins said. The initiative aims to revolutionize studies of the human brain by building or improving tools that show the workings of the brain, from molecules to behavior. Its goal is to enhance understanding of the brain and improve prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of brain diseases.

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