Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Would a Therapy for Down Syndrome Change Lives For Better or For Worse?

By Sarika Sachdeva

This post was written as part of a class assignment from students who took a neuroethics course with Dr. Rommelfanger in Paris of Summer 2016.

Sarika Sachdeva is an undergraduate junior at Emory studying Neuroscience and Behavioral Biology and Economics. She is involved with research on stimulant abuse and addiction under Dr. Leonard Howell at Yerkes National Primate Research Center.

Researchers around the world are working to develop treatments and cures for all kinds of genetic disorders and abnormalities, but what happens when the people affected by the condition don’t want it taken away? New breakthroughs in treatment are often controversial for non-fatal conditions such as Down Syndrome, which causes inhibited neural communication and leads to learning delays as a result of an extra copy of chromosome 21 (Rochman, 2015).

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

New Frontiers in Animal Research Neuroethics at the Center for Neuroscience and Society

By Tyler M. John

Tyler John is a postbaccalaureate fellow at the National Institutes of Health Department of Bioethics interested in resource allocation, animal ethics, and moral theory. This fall, he will begin a PhD in Philosophy at Rutgers University. 

The opinions expressed are the authors’ own. They do not reflect any position or policy of any U.S. governmental entity, including the National Institutes of Health or the Department of Health and Human Services. 

On June 9-10, I joined a gathering of philosophers, psychologists, veterinarians, and biomedical researchers for the Animal Research Neuroethics Workshop at the Penn Center for Neuroscience and Society. The workshop, organized by neuroethicists Adam Shriver, James Serpell, and Martha Farah, focused on the ethical issues raised by new advances in neuroscience research with non-human animals. Here, researchers from many disciplines came together to share notes from the field and discuss new neuroethics problems. 

Over two days, we discussed problems like, What is the moral status of so-called “brains in dishes”? Is it morally permissible for scientists to cognitively enhance mice, rats, and chimps, giving them advanced cognitive capacities? Is it even conceptually possible to have a mouse model of human depression given the substantial psychological differences between humans and mice? What, more broadly, should we say about the scientific validity and moral permissibility of current neurological research on non-human animals? 

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

The Physical, Social, and Societal Consequences of “Smart” Drugs

By Sunidhi Ramesh

This post was written as part of a class assignment from students who took a neuroethics course with Dr. Rommelfanger in Paris in Summer 2016.

Sunidhi Ramesh, an Atlanta native, is entering her third year at Emory University where she is double majoring in Sociology and Neuroscience and Behavioral Biology.  After experiencing an educational environment in high school that was so competitive that it practically forced students into taking study drugs, cheating, and cutting corners, she founded “The Prism Project,” an initiative that revolves around anonymous stories that highlight the problems that exist within the American education system. She plans to pursue a career in medicine and has served on College Council’s Admissions and Scholarships committee, is presently active on Emory’s Committee of Academic Integrity, and is involved in the Indian Cultural Exchange organization at Emory. 

“I remember the night I first took one. A friend of mine had some extra, so he handed me one the night before a big test. This test was important; I was doing pretty badly in the class, and I knew that my performance on it would decide my final grade. I wasn’t the type to take Adderall to get ahead. But I was desperate. And I thought it was only going to be this one time.

My grades skyrocketed. Like, you don’t understand. I played football and had to take care of my mom after school; the main reason I did so badly before was that I didn’t have the energy to put into school that I wanted to. But these pills… these pills gave me that. The energy I didn’t have.”

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Preview the latest issue of AJOB Neuroscience!

Watch this video advertising the soon-to-be published Spring 2016 issue of AJOB Neuroscience.  The video features two AJOBN editors describing the target articles that will appear in issue 7.2.  Keep an eye on http://www.ajobneuroscience.com and The Neuroethics Blog for more information on 7.2's upcoming release. 


Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Nobody Ever Believes This Story: Slam Poetry as a Palimpsestic Space for Mental Illness Identity

By Chandler Batchelor

Chandler Batchelor is a graduate student in the Literature, Medicine, and Culture MA program at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.  She is interested in alternative and holistic approaches to mental healthcare, doctor-patient relationships in mental healthcare, and mental health advocacy.

Typically, descriptions of mental illness provided by medical professionals are often taken more seriously than descriptions given by the diagnosed themselves. Biomedicine has a particular way of talking about mental abnormalities, describing mental experiences with symptoms. It uses words like “depression,” “flat affect,” and “grandiose sense of self” to depict concrete outward signs of internal dysfunction. In our culture, this biomedical rhetoric is upheld as the definitive, most correct and objective way of describing mental illness. But while biomedicine is an excellent tool for describing diseases, it often fails to capture the subjective nuances of the illness experience. By looking at how the diagnosed talk about their subjective experiences, we can gain new insights that could not be gleaned from a biomedical understanding alone (Estroff, 2003; Kleinman, 1988).

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

The plague at our doorstep: ethical issues presented by the Zika virus outbreak

By Ryan Purcell

Image courtesy of Flickr user Day Donaldson
“Never before in history has there been a situation when a bite from a mosquito can result in such a devastating scenario.” So says Tom Frieden, director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The Zika virus has captured headlines since late 2015, when word spread north from Brazil that a virus, new to the Americas, may be silently causing alarming neurodevelopmental disorders in newborns. Now, the southern United States is preparing to confront the mosquito-borne illness, which “may become the first great plague of the 21st century.” As public health officials continue to work to mitigate the impact of what the World Health Organization has declared a “Global Health Emergency”, there are several important ethical issues that must be considered. These include a women’s reproductive rights, disability rights concerning those most affected, and the growing realization that poverty-stricken regions and neighborhoods will bear a disproportional burden from this disease. Each of these concerns deserves much more attention than could be provided here. My current aim is merely to point out key issues to stimulate discussion.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Consumer Neurotechnology: New Products, More Regulatory Complexity

By Anna Wexler

Anna Wexler is a PhD candidate in the HASTS (History, Anthropology, Science, Technology and Society) at MIT and a 2015-2016 visiting scholar at the Center for Neuroscience and Society at the University of Pennsylvania. Her dissertation focuses on the ethical, legal and social implications of emerging neuroscience technology, with a particular focus on the home use of noninvasive brain stimulation.

Just when it seemed like the consumer neurotechnology market couldn’t get any stranger—after all, who would’ve expected that a sleek white triangle could be placed on the forehead for “calm” or “energy” vibes—two new products recently hit the market that further complicate the challenges of regulating this emerging market. Halo Sport is a brain stimulator marketed for athletic enhancement that utilizes technology similar to transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS), while Nervana, which began taking pre-orders in March, is the first noninvasive vagus nerve stimulation (VNS) device to be sold directly to the public in the United States.

Halo Neuroscience, the manufacturer of Halo Sport, advertises that its product “accelerates gains in strength, explosiveness, and dexterity.” In many ways, Halo Sport overcomes obstacles that have plagued other direct-to-consumer brain stimulation products. Because Halo Sport only claims to stimulate the motor cortex—which, conveniently for the company, lies beneath the area of the head where a pair of headphones might sit—the product does not utilize stray wires or a futuristic headset, but instead takes the recognizable shape of headphones. The beneficial effect of a familiar design should not be underestimated: many potentially useful technology tools have failed in no small part due to their unusual “look.”

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Submit your Abstract for the 2016 International Neuroethics Society Meeting in San Diego!

Mark your calendars now for the 2016 International Neuroethics Society Annual Meeting taking place in San Diego, CA on November 11th and November 12th. This year the conference will feature 2 days of talks, networking opportunities, and poster presentations.

Highlights from the meeting include Plenary Talks by Dr. Steve Hyman of the Stanley Center for Psychiatric Research and Dr. Walter J. Koroshetz from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), while the two featured sessions on the 12th are entitled “Mind-Brain and the Competing Identities of Neuroethics” and “Deconstructing Therapeutic Neurotechnology 'Narratives': A Case Study of DBS for Depression.”

Moderated by Dr. Eric Racine from the Institut de recherches cliniques de Montréal, “Mind-Brain and the Competing Identities of Neuroethics” will discuss three perspectives of neuroscience: empirical, speculative, and pragmatic, and these three views will be presented by Dr. Paul Applebaum, Dr. Tom Buller, Dr. Jennifer Chandler, and Dr. Saskia Nagel. “Deconstructing Therapeutic Neurotechnology 'Narratives': A Case Study of DBS for Depression” will also highlight three different viewpoints; neuroscientist Dr. Helen Mayberg, philosopher Dr. Sara Goering, and journalist Mo Costandi will explore how to interpret DBS patient narratives. The panel will be moderated by Emory University’s Dr. Karen Rommelfanger.

Thursday's events will take place in the San Diego Central Library
The 2016 INS Meeting will also kick-off the International Ambassador Program with a 2-hour session on international neuroethics. While the 1st hour will focus on discussions from leading international figures, the 2nd hour will involve breakout group sessions that include topic such as career opportunities from national neuroscience initiatives, how exchange programs can encourage communication, and how oversight groups will differ among national agencies.

There is still time to participate in the 2016 Meeting! Important deadlines to consider are listed below. 

• The abstract deadline for a poster presentation has been extended to June 15th
The 3rd Annual Student/Postdoc Essay Contest deadline has been extended to June 30th 
Logo Contest submissions are due June 30th

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Memory, Obesity, and Free Will

By Carlie Hoffman

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Do you remember the telephone game? One child comes up with a phrase (e.g. “I love to run”) and then whispers that phrase to the child sitting next to her. This child then whispers what she heard to the child sitting next to her, and so on. By the time the phrase reaches the final child, what started out as “I love to run” could have been transformed into “She shoved a nun,” a complete distortion of the initial sentiment. Unfortunately, a similar telephone game can, and often does, occur in the popular news. This phenomenon was showcased by Dr. Marise Parent’s recent publication, which received considerable press coverage. Dr. Parent, a professor of neuroscience and psychology at Georgia State University and the speaker at our April Neuroethics and Neuroscience in the News journal club, explained how her data linking consumption of a sucrose meal to formation of a food memory was transformed into media headlines claiming “Sweets can help you stay in shape” and “Don’t skip dessert. It can help you eat healthier.” A perfect grown-up example of the telephone game at work.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Survival Needs and Growth Attenuation Therapy: Do They Signal a Need for a “Dependency Ethics”?

By John Banja, PhD

In 2006, the world learned about a child born with profound and life-long cognitive and physical disabilities who had undergone growth attenuation therapy (GAT) four years previously [1]. Called “Ashley” in media reports, she not only received the GAT—which consisted of administering high doses of estrogen over the span of a few years so as to staunch her physical growth—but she additionally had a hysterectomy, removal of her breast buds and an appendectomy. In response to international outrage that the child suffered these “mutilations” because she was disabled, her parents argued that these interventions would enable them to take better care of her, especially as she aged.

Image courtesy of Pixabay
GAT is back in the news with a New York Times magazine article [2] appearing March 22nd and an empirical study on parental perspectives recently published in the Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics [3]. Children who receive GAT have an intellectual capacity that will likely never exceed that of a 1 year old, and they require 24 hour a day care throughout their lives. GAT typically consists in their receiving daily doses of estrogen between ages 3 and 6. The estrogen stimulates the premature closing of the growth plates or cartilaginous structures occurring at the ends of the long bones in their legs and arms, resulting in some reduction in height. About 75 percent of parents who choose GAT for their children do so because they are the child’s primary caregivers, and they justify their treatment decision in light of its facilitating both their and their child’s quality of life [2]. One parent was quoted as saying, “My daughter is trapped in a wheelchair all her life, and she’s more comfortable…We brought her out of her chair and into our laps…She needs to be in our laps for our whole life” [2]. Alternatively, disability rights advocates repudiate GAT as a violation of the child’s bodily inviolability. They insist that these children have an inherent right to grow and thrive into adulthood, and they vigorously condemn GAT as a victimizing and infantilizing intervention [4].