Tuesday, February 21, 2017

When Neuroethicists Become Labmates

By Timothy Brown and Margaret Thompson

Timothy Brown is a doctoral student and research assistant at the University of Washington (UW). He works with the Center for Sensorimotor Neural Engineering's (CSNE) Neuroethics Trust, where he explores the broader moral and societal implications of neural engineering and neural technology use. Through the CSNE’s support, he is also embedded in the UW's BioRobotics Lab, where he investigates issues of autonomy and agency that arise for people with motor disorders who use next-generation, neurally-controlled deep-brain stimulators to manage their symptoms. 

Margaret Thompson is a doctoral student in the BioRobotics Laboratory in the Electrical Engineering department at University of Washington, Seattle; she is also president of the Student Leadership Council at the CSNE. She received her Master’s in Electrical Engineering from University of Washington in 2016 and her Bachelor’s in Engineering from Harvey Mudd College in 2014. She researches side-effect mitigation methods for deep brain stimulation, as well as how human subjects learn to use brain-computer interfaces over months to years at a time. 


Maggie Thompson and Tim Brown are graduate students at the University of Washington—Maggie studies electrical engineering, and Tim studies philosophy (in particular, neuroethics). They are both members of the Biorobotics Laboratory—a multidisciplinary lab investigating the interface between human bodies and machines. Tim serves as the lab’s “embedded ethicist” through the support of the Center for Sensorimotor Neural Engineering (CSNE).

Together, Maggie and Tim work on projects related to deep brain stimulators (or DBS, where electrodes implanted in key areas of the brain apply enough current to treat various disorders) and brain computer interfaces (or BCI, where changes in the brain are read by sensors and used to control a computer system). Their current study collects patient perspectives in “real-time” while they test the next-generation of deep brain stimulators. Their goal is to see how patients relate to their implant and how this relationship changes with different kinds of control over the implant and its parameters. 

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Predicting Psychosis: Exploring Pre-Clinical Signs for Mental Illness

By Sunidhi Ramesh

This post is based on the January edition of the “Neuroethics and Neuroscience in the News” series in which Dr. Elaine Walker from Emory University discussed the ethics of assessing risk and treating brain diseases before they can be diagnosed.

This self-portrait is often used to depict the distorted
reality that many schizophrenia patients face.
(Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.)
“This calculator,” a 2016 headline states, “can predict your risk of developing psychotic disorders.”

Psychotic disorders, including schizophrenia and bipolar disorder with psychotic features, are characterized by noticeable deficits in “normal” behavior accompanied by hallucinations, delusions, paranoia, an early onset (the average age of onset is in the late teens or early twenties), and a derailed life course.

Because of its early age at onset, the DALY (disability adjusted life years) value for psychosis is significantly greater than that of other illnesses (1). It’s no surprise, then, that researchers are asking questions. Are there measures that can be taken to keep at-risk populations from enduring a life-hindering disability?

Fifteen years ago, the answer would be no. Today, it (just might be) yes. 

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Space to grow? Neurological risks of moving to Mars

By Carlie Hoffman

Artistic rendition of a human colony on Mars, image
courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Humans have been venturing into space for over 50 years. Starting in 1961 when the Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first human to travel into space, by 1969 Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins, and Buzz Aldrin became the first humans on the moon, and by 1998 the International Space Station had launched its first module. More recently our exploration of space has started to reach new heights, with 2011 seeing the launch of the Mars One company and its mission to produce the first human colony on Mars by 2033.

Despite our half century of space exploration, scientists have only recently started researching the effects of space travel on the brain. The question of what our brains will look like after spending an extended amount of time in space is increasingly pressing with the impending inception of the Mars colony. The first group of Mars colonists are expected to begin training later this year and will undergo 14 years of training before departing Earth in 2031 and finally landing on Mars in 2032. Though establishing a human colony on Mars will be another giant leap for mankind, will the colonists that travel to and live on Mars have the same brains as when they left Earth? 

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Is Neuromarketing Influencing Pathological Shopping Behavior?

By Elena Lopez

Elena Lopez is currently pursuing her BBA at Goizueta Business School and is also pursuing a degree in Neuroscience at Emory College of Arts & Sciences. She is involved in volunteer-related organizations that help those with limited resources and offer free consulting services, such as Volunteer Medical Interpretation Services and Emory Venture Strategic Partners. Elena developed a curiosity for neuroethics after attending the NBB Paris study abroad program and the 3rd international Neuroethics Network conference. She hopes to combine her passion for science and business in her future career goals.

Just over a month has passed since the biggest holiday shopping season of the year, and many Americans are already planning how they will financially recover from their overspending and failed budgeting plans. Financial sites like Forbes and the CNBC personal finance page have already come out with articles titled "Oops, you overspent on the holidays" and "Holiday spending hangover? Get your finances back on track" in an attempt to help consumers recover from financial losses. Months before the frenzy began, NBC reported that the National Retail Federation forecasted sales for November and December 2016 would increase 3.6% from last year to reach a whopping $800 billion dollars- with 90% of those sales consisting of online purchases (Weisbaum, 2016). With the growing presence of the digital component in sales and advertising, interactions between consumers and retailers can be tailored to the individual and offer greater shopping experiences. In the same NBC report, Deloitte stated that digital interactions likely influence two-thirds of every dollar spent (Weisbaum, 2016).

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Neuroethics and the Third Offset Strategy

By Jonathan D. Moreno

Jonathan D. Moreno is the David and Lyn Silfen University Professor at the University of Pennsylvania where he is a Penn Integrates Knowledge (PIK) professor. At Penn he is also Professor of Medical Ethics and Health Policy, of History and Sociology of Science, and of Philosophy. Moreno is an elected member of the National Academy of Medicine and is the U.S. member of the UNESCO International Bioethics Committee. A Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress in Washington, D.C., Moreno has served as an adviser to many governmental and non-governmental organizations, including three presidential commissions, the Department of Defense, the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Health and Human Services, the Centers for Disease Control, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Moreno has written several books, including Impromptu Man: J.L. Moreno and the Origins of Psychodrama, Encounter Culture, and the Social Network (2014), The Body Politic, Mind Wars (2012), and Undue Risk (2000). He has also published hundreds of papers, articles, reviews and op-eds, and frequently contributes to such publications as The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Huffington Post, Psychology Today, and Nature. In 2008-09 he served as a member of President Barack Obama’s transition team. His work has also been cited by Al Gore and was used in the development of the screenplay for “The Bourne Legacy.”

A new U.S. strategic doctrine called the third offset poses an important challenge for the field of neuroethics. The neuroethical issues related to national security were not among those discussed at the Dana Foundation’s landmark “Mapping the Field” conference in 2002. But only a year after the Dana conference, Nature published a tough editorial called “The Silence of the Neuroengineers.” The editors accused Pentagon-funded investigators of failing to respond to, or even consider, questions about the potential uses of technologies like brain-machine interfaces. An indignant letter from the chief scientist at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) suggested that the Nature editors harbored a prejudicial attitude, failing to take into account the medical advances that could eventuate from DARPA-funded neuroscience (1). Since then the possible military and intelligence applications of modern neurotechnologies has stimulated a modest literature (2). Nonetheless, the field is still underperforming in its attention to the national security environment.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

The Medicalization of Mental Illness in Gun Violence

By Carolyn C. Meltzer, MD

Dr. Meltzer serves as the William P. Timmie Professor and Chair of the Department of Radiology and Imaging Sciences and as the Associate Dean for Research at the Emory University School of Medicine. Her work focuses on applying novel advanced imaging strategies to better understand brain structure-function relationships in normal aging, late-life depression, and Alzheimer’s disease. She is also involved in oncologic imaging research and, while at the University of Pittsburgh, oversaw the clinical evaluation of the world’s first combined PET/CT scanner. She established the Emory Center for Systems Imaging to broadly support the advance of imaging technologies in basic and translational research, including beta testing of the first human combined MRI/PET scanner. Dr. Meltzer has also served as the Chair of the Neuroradiology Commission and Chair of the Research Commission on the American College of Radiology’s Board of Chancellors, President of the Academy of Radiology Research, Trustee of the Radiological Society of North America Foundation, and President of the American Society of Neuroradiology.

On January 6, 2017, a young man pulled a semiautomatic handgun from his checked baggage and shot and killed several passengers in the Fort Lauderdale airport. In the days following the incident, information about erratic behavior and his prior involvement in incidents of domestic abuse emerged.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

A CRISPR View of Life

By Shweta Sahu

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
We now live in a society where many are trying to get a leg up where they can, whether it be through pharmacological neuroenhancement (like Ritalin and Adderall) or other neurotechnologies (like transcranial direct current simulation). Technology also allows us to exert an even earlier influence on neurodevelopmental disorders through prenatal genetic testing for fetuses. Such technologies include amniocentesis and chorionic villus sampling, that screen for Down’s, Edwards’ and Patau’s syndromes, and give parents the chance to decide whether they would like to terminate or continue with their pregnancy. One article even claims 53% of all pregnancies were aborted following prenatal diagnoses of Down’s Syndrome, though there is still much dispute over the exact numbers.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Future (Brain) Identities, Lost in Translation

On December 6-7, 2016, the 92nd Street Y and the Future Today Institute successfully convened leading "research scientists, technologists, ethicists, policy makers, authors, elected officials, academics and artists to take stock of where we are—and where we are going." 

On Dec 7, Emory's own Neuroethics Program Director, Dr. Karen Rommelfanger gave the closing keynote for the Future. Today Summit at the 92Y in New York. The topic of her talk was Future (Brain) Identities, Lost in Translation.

A preview of her talk can be found below.



Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Is memory enhancement right around the corner?

By Ryan Purcell

“Everyone has had the experience of struggling to remember long lists of items or complicated directions to get somewhere,” Dr. Justin Sanchez of DARPA said in a recent press release. “Today we are discovering how implantable neurotechnologies can facilitate the brain’s performance of these functions.” The US Department of Defense is interested in how the brain forms memories because hundreds of thousands of soldiers – or “warfighters” as they are now called – have suffered from traumatic brain injury (TBI) and some have severe memory problems. Beyond the military, TBI is a major public health concern that affects millions of Americans as patients and caregivers and is incredibly expensive. A breakthrough treatment is needed and for that, ambitious research is required.

But does this research agenda end at treating disease, or could these findings also be applied to memory enhancement goals?

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Meet Tomorrow's World: A Meeting on the Ethics of Emerging Technologies

By Marcello Ienca

Marcello Ienca, M.Sc., M.A., is a PhD candidate and research assistant at the Institute for Biomedical Ethics, University of Basel, Switzerland. His current projects include the assessment of intelligent assistive technologies for people with dementia and other neurocognitive disabilities, the regulation of pervasive neurotechnology, and the neurosecurity of human-machine interfaces. He is the chair of the Student/Postdoc Committee of the International Neuroethics Society and the current coordinator of the Swiss Network for Neuroscience, Ethics and Law.

Technology is rapidly reshaping the world we live in. In the past few decades, mankind has not significantly changed biologically, but human societies have undergone continuous and unprecedented developments through technological innovation. Today, most human activities—from messaging to geolocation, from financial transactions to medical therapies— are computer-mediated. In the next decades, the quantity and variety of activities mediated by digital technology is bound to increase exponentially. In parallel, with advancements in artificial intelligence (AI), robotics and microcomputing, the friction between man and machine is set to vanish and the boundaries at the human-machine interface are bound to blur. In an attempt to anticipate our technological futures as well as their impact on our societies and our systems of values, the International Neuroethics Society (jointly with the Temporal Dynamics of Learning Center, the Science Collaboratory of the University of California, San Diego, and the National Science Foundation) sponsored a public event on the Ethics of Emerging Technologies as part of the 2016 annual INS meeting in San Diego, California. The event was organized by INS President Judy Illes, INS Executive Director Karen Graham, Dr. Rachel Wurzman of the INS Public Session Program Committee and Prof. Andrea Chiba, Dr. Roger Bingham and Prof. Deborah Forster of UCSD. A panel of international experts in various areas of science and ethics gathered in San Diego on November 9 to discuss various critical issues emerging at the human-machine interface with possible disruptive implications for ethics and society. The first perspective was provided by Dr. William D. Casebeer, career intelligence analyst and Lieutenant Colonel in the US Air Force. His short talk proposed an interesting analogy between pervasive technology and the art of storytelling to show how technology could be actually used, in the near future, to raise empathy, deliver personalized experiences and facilitate human interaction.