Tuesday, May 23, 2017

How you’ll grow up, and how you’ll grow old

By Nathan Ahlgrim

Nathan Ahlgrim is a third year Ph.D. candidate in the Neuroscience Program at Emory. In his research, he studies how different brain regions interact to make certain memories stronger than others. In his own life, he strengthens his own brain power by hiking through the north Georgia mountains and reading highly technical science...fiction.

An ounce of prevention can only be worth a pound of cure if you know what to prevent in the first place. The solution to modifying disease onset can be fairly straightforward if the prevention techniques are rooted in lifestyle, such as maintaining a healthy diet and weight to prevent hypertension and type-II diabetes. However, disorders of the brain are more complicated – both to treat and to predict. The emerging science of preclinical detection of brain disorders was on display at Emory University during the April 28th symposium entitled, “The Use of Preclinical Biomarkers for Brain Diseases: A Neuroethical Dilemma.” Perspectives from ethicists, researchers conducting preclinical research, and participants or family members of those involved in clinical research were brought together over the course of the symposium. The diversity of panelists provided a holistic view of where preclinical research stands, and what must be considered as the field progresses.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Happy 15th Birthday, Neuroethics!

By Henry T. Greely

Henry T. (Hank) Greely is the Deane F. and Kate Edelman Johnson Professor of Law and Professor, by courtesy, of Genetics at Stanford University. He specializes in ethical, legal, and social issues arising from advances in the biosciences, particularly from genetics, neuroscience, and human stem cell research. He directs the Stanford Center for Law and the Biosciences and the Stanford Program on Neuroscience in Society; chairs the California Advisory Committee on Human Stem Cell Research; is the President Elect of the International Neuroethics Society; and serves on the Neuroscience Forum of the National Academy of Medicine; the Committee on Science, Technology, and Law of the National Academy of Sciences; and the NIH Multi-Council Working Group on the BRAIN Initiative. He was elected a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 2007. His book, THE END OF SEX AND THE FUTURE OF HUMAN REPRODUCTION, was published in May 2016. 

Professor Greely graduated from Stanford in 1974 and from Yale Law School in 1977. He served as a law clerk for Judge John Minor Wisdom on the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit and for Justice Potter Stewart of the United States Supreme Court. After working during the Carter Administration in the Departments of Defense and Energy, he entered private law practice in Los Angeles in 1981. He joined the Stanford faculty in 1985. 

Fifteen years ago, on May 13, 2002, a two-day conference called “Neuroethics: Mapping the Field” began at the Presidio in San Francisco. And modern neuroethics was born. That conference was the first meeting to bring together a wide range of people who were, or would soon be, writing in “neuroethics;” it gave the new field substantial publicity; and, perhaps most importantly, it gave it a catchy name. 

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Reading into the Science: The Neuroscience and Ethics of Enhancement

By Shweta Sahu

Image courtesy of Pexels.
I was always an average student: I was good, just not good enough. I often wondered what my life and grades would be like if I’d had a better memory or learned faster. I remember several exams throughout my high school career where I just could not recall what certain rote memorization facts or specific details were, and now in college, I realize that if I could somehow learn faster, how much time would I save and be able to study even more? Would a better memory have led me to do better on my exams in high school, and would my faster ability to learn new information have increased my GPA?

Such has been the question for years now in the ongoing debates of memory enhancement and cognitive enhancement, respectively. I’m not the only student to have ever felt this way and I’m sure I won’t be the last. Technology and medicine seem to be on the brink of exciting new findings, ones that may help us in ways we’ve never before thought imaginable.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

The [Sea] Monster Inside Me

By Sunidhi Ramesh

A side-by-side comparison of a sea horse and the human
hippocampus (Greek for sea monster).
(Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.)
In 1587, Venetian anatomist Julius Aranzi gave a name to the intricate, hallmark structure located in the medial temporal lobe of the human brain—the hippocampus, Greek for sea monster.

The hippocampus, often said to resemble a sea horse, has since been identified as a key player in the consolidation of information (from short-term memory to long-term memory) and in the spatial memory that allows for our day-to-day navigation. Because of its importance in learning and memory, hippocampal damage is often a culprit in varying forms of dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, short-term memory loss, and amnesia.

Since its discovery, the hippocampus has been the subject of extensive research ranging from understanding diet and exercise as cognitive modulators to demonstrating the three-step encoding, storage, and retrieval process that the structure so consistently performs. In this time, it has become apparent that the hippocampus is not only a vital structure for normal human functioning, but it is also necessary to what makes us uniquely human.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

The Science March: Can science-based advocacy be both nuanced and effective?

By Jennifer Lee

Jenn Laura Lee is a PhD candidate in neuroscience at New York University. She is also a member of the Scientist Action and Advocacy Network (ScAAN.net), which offers pro bono data science and research to organizations seeking to implement positive social change.

I believe in protests. I attend them, I endorse them, and I think that they make a difference. Raising political consciousness in the scientific community in any form seems like a good thing. The Science March moreover seems like a great opportunity for a community of people sharing common livelihood to advocate for the importance of their work in policy-making, as it relates to nuclear non-proliferation, climate change, vaccination, and so on. 

But while I plan to attend the March for Science in New York, I’m hoping to use this article to examine, articulate, and hopefully mitigate the slight unease that’s been growing in me surrounding some of the language that scientists have been using to describe the march (both critics and proponents alike).

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Would You Want to be a Savant?

By John Banja

John Banja, PhD is a medical ethicist at Emory University’s Center for Ethics, a professor in the Department of Rehabilitation Medicine, and the editor of AJOB Neuroscience.

Darold Treffert (2010), a psychiatrist who has devoted the better part of his career to studying savants, notes that there are at least 3 kinds.

First, those who manifest the “savant syndrome” and display the most astonishing of savant abilities, such as Kim Peek who was the inspiration for Dustin Hoffman’s character, Raymond Babbitt, in the movie Rain Man. Peek, who died from a heart attack in 2009, was remarkable even by savant standards: He memorized more than 12,000 books and was able to read two pages simultaneously, one page with the right eye, the other page with the left. He also had a remarkably hospitable form of dyslexia where he could read words on a page turned sideways or upside down or backwards—such as reflected in a mirror. He could add a column of numbers from a telephone book page and instantly tell you the mean of those numbers, and he could do lightning calendar calculations like telling you which day of the week you were born upon knowing your birth date (Treffert, 2010, pp. 120-129). These were only a few of his talents. 

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

VR and PTSD: Healing from trauma by confronting fears in virtual reality environments

By Katie Givens Kime

Image courtesy of Flikr
What are the ethical implications of therapeutically re-exposing patients to trauma via virtual reality technologies? Of the 2.7 million American veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, at least 20% suffer from depression and/or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and other studies peg that percentage even higher. As a chronic, debilitating mental illness, one PTSD symptom is hyperarousal, in which a person repeatedly re-experiences a trauma in the form of nightmares, panic attacks, and flashbacks.  One of the most long-trusted therapeutic approaches to PTSD is exposure therapy; now, virtual reality technology is increasingly being used to simulate exposure to traumatic events and to environments related to the traumatic event.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Join us for the Emory Graduate Student Neuroethics Symposium on April 28th, 2017

This spring, the Neuroscience Graduate Program and the Neuroethics Program at Emory University are teaming up to present the 2017 Emory Graduate Student Neuroethics Symposium entitled, The Use of Preclinical Biomarkers for Brain Diseases: A Neuroethical Dilemma. This year’s symposium will focus on the neuroethics of preclinical detection, including discussions of the basic and clinical research being performed and the neurotechnologies being developed for the early detection of autism, schizophrenia, and Alzheimer’s disease. 

The symposium will take place on Friday, April 28th from 10am to 4:30pm at Emory University and is free and open to the public. The symposium will be comprised of three sessions: 
Session 1: Autism, with a focus on the ethics of conducting preclinical research.
Session 2: Schizophrenia, with a focus on the ethics of interventions and treatment.
Session 3: Alzheimer’s disease, with a focus on the ethics of delivering a preclinical diagnosis given the risks for stigma. 
Each session will include input from a patient diagnosed with the disease or family member of someone experiencing the disease, a researcher/clinician, and an ethicist. Speakers will include Dr. Cheryl Klaiman, Dr. Donna Chen, Dr. Dena Davis, Dr. Paul Root Wolpe, Dr. Elaine Walker, and Dr. Allan Levey.

Through this symposium, we hope to highlight the challenges that a patient can face after being given a preclinical diagnosis for a mental disorder, and to underscore the ethical challenges that arise when the ability to detect a future disease outreaches our ability to care for the patient.

You can find more information on our website and in the flyer below, and can register for the event here. We hope you will join us!


Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Why Addiction Narratives Matter

By Katie Givens Kime

Image courtesy of
Merrimack Repertory Theatre.
“My Higher Power is: Science!” proclaims Sean, a newly recovered alcoholic. “Sean” is the lead character in a comedic play, “The White Chip,” which premiered last year at Merrimac Repertory Theatre outside of Boston, Massachusetts. Written by Sean Daniels, the play dramatizes Daniels’ own near demise from alcoholism, and his experience of recovery. Neuroethics is writ large as the play tells the story of how critically important various addiction etiologies can be for those struggling with alcoholism, or addiction of any sort. In Sean’s case, the etiology is the brain disease model of addiction (BDMA) in a notable combination with the “Higher Power” understanding of 12-step programs, which he credits with saving his life. Behind the curious twists of the play, questions linger: which model of addiction should be presented to those in recovery, when so much conflict exists amongst addiction researchers, clinicians, and recovery care providers? At what point does an effective (potentially life-saving) narrative of addiction etiology supersede the obligation to provide all sides of the controversial matter of addiction modeling?

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

M[Emory] Enhancement and its Implications

By Shweta Sahu

Imagine a situation in which you suffer from severe anterograde amnesia, a form of short term memory loss, and can’t recall information presented to you even 7 seconds before-- let alone being able to remember the one thing you went to Target to buy, but forgot. Such is the case of Clive Wearing, a man known for his lack of short term memory. His wife notes, “you ask him a question and he’ll give you an answer but while he’s giving me the answer, he’s already forgotten the question. That’s how short it is.” He himself notes “the brain has been totally inactive—day and night the same—no thoughts at all.” Though this is one of the most severe cases of amnesia observed, it underscores how crucial memory is not only to every day functioning, but also for one’s sense of self. Autobiographical memories and the ability to recall these emotional and important events are an integral component of one’s identity. These events, in turn, get tied into personal narratives that our personalities are built on. In the case of Mr. Wearing, he is stuck in this personality because of the damage to his hippocampus and closely related brain regions, an area of the brain necessary for transferring information from short term to long term memory. As a result, he reports that he feels like he is dead and is constantly waking up into a new reality.

Video courtesy of YouTube