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].

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Cognitive Enrichment on Cognitive Enhancement at the Michigan Undergraduate Philosophy Conference

By Shweta Sahu

Photo Credit: Anne Trelfa
On February 19, the Michigan Undergraduate Philosophy Conference assembled for the 4th annual meeting at the Insight Institute of Neurosurgery and Neuroscience in Flint, Michigan. The program is jointly hosted by the Center for Cognition and Neuroethics and the University of Michigan-Flint Philosophy Department. I had the pleasure of attending and presenting at this incredible event through the generous support of the American Journal of Bioethics Neuroscience and the Neuroethics Program at Emory. The goals of the Center for Cognition and Neuroethics are to promote “the exploration of conceptual foundations of neuroscience” and to “study the implications of their advances for society in the legal, political, and ethical realms.” The conference, organized by Cody Hatfield-Myers, a senior at the University of Michigan- Flint, brought together students from multiple states in the US and even a few students from Canada.

The event, directed at undergraduate students, aimed to foster the sharing of students’ diverse papers, all linked by the common themes of cognition and neuroethics. Central topics of discussion included: philosophy of mind, cognitive science, neuroscience, philosophy of action and free will, identity, medical ethics and memory, learning, belief, and knowledge. Common questions that seemed to resurface included: What is self-identity? Can you freely alter your own self-identity? Are there aspects of one’s personal identity that it would be wrong to alter, eliminate or hide? If so, why? What is the proper role of medicine—to eliminate illness or to enhance people (physically, morally, psychologically) to make them “better than well”? What are the limits of parental control over the health and well-being of the body and mind of their child (as was the case with my talk)? Do children have the right to determine whether or not they are subjected to medical or psychological treatments? How are health, life and death, medicine, physical and mental illness portrayed in art, music, and in literature?

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Notes from the field: Critical Juncture at Emory

by Lindsey Grubbs

Early in April, Emory University hosted the third iteration of Critical Juncture. This annual(ish) graduate-student-led conference focuses on intersectionality, examining interconnecting dynamics of systems of oppression including racism, sexism, ableism, and classism. This year’s conference, while maintaining a broader focus on the complexities of identity and oppression, took as its theme “representations of the body”: which bodies are, and perhaps more importantly which are not, represented in science, politics, the arts, and the academy, and what forms do these representations take?

From its beginning, the conference has links to neuroethics at Emory. One of the co-founders of the conference, Jennifer Sarrett, was a past Neuroethics Scholars Program Fellow. This year, I—one-time managing editor of this blog and current intrepid neuroethics blogger—served as one of the co-organizers.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Oxytocin: The Hormone of Hype, Hope, and Healing

By Shweta Sahu

Due to his work interrogating the role of certain chemicals in vole behavior at Yerkes National Primate Research Center, Dr. Larry Young has come across the problem of his results being portrayed hyperbolically, as the science sometimes goes to fictional lengths. Yet this work has important implications for mental health. To demonstrate this exaggeration as well as its potential, I am going to address: 1. the buildup of the oxytocin hype, 2. the translation of the research and 3. the ethical implications in humans.

Prairie voles, image courtesy of Flickr user theNerdPatrol
Oxytocin and pair bonding
Dr. Young researches oxytocin (OT), a neuropeptide known to be involved in birthing and associated with maternal bonding, and his lab utilizes voles as an experimental model. Their research was founded upon on the idea that prairie voles are highly social, bi-parental, and monogamous by nature while meadow voles are less social, uniparental, and promiscuous. They investigated differences in oxytocin receptor distribution in the brains of prairie voles and meadow voles and found that in the monogamous prairie voles, there are more oxytocin receptors in the reward system of the brain. Young and colleagues then injected oxytocin antagonists into the nucleus accumbens (NAcc), an area implicated in bonding and reward. They found that prairie voles, whose oxytocin receptors were blocked, would not bond when they mated.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Should Presidential Candidates Be Required to Undergo Preclinical Alzheimer’s Disease Testing?

By Kaitlyn B. Lee

Kaitlyn “Kai” Lee is a Project Coordinator in the Center for Medical Ethics and Health Policy at Baylor College of Medicine. She helps to investigate the ethical, legal, and social issues of integrating whole genome sequencing into clinical care as part of MedSeq, a project funded by the NIH’s Clinical Sequencing Exploratory Research (CSER) program. Kai earned her BA in Neuroscience from Middlebury College and hopes to continue her education through a joint JD/MPH program.

In her op-ed published in the Houston Chronicle, “Presidential candidates should be tested for Alzheimer’s,” radio and television personality turned author and keynote speaker Dayna Steele advocates testing presidential candidates for Alzheimer’s disease and releasing their results to the voting public. Steele believes voters have a right to know their future president’s Alzheimer’s test results, as she maintains, “I want to know that the candidate I choose not only supports my priorities but is also of sound mind – a mind that will last through four or eight years” (Steele, 2016). Drawing upon her own personal experience with her mother’s Alzheimer’s disease, Steele describes the progression of her mother’s disease from simply forgetting things, to driving while lost, to total mental and physical incapacitation. Steele cites her mother’s rapid 3-year decline to assert that an affected person in a position with as much power as the President would be devastating for the country, arguing that we can avoid such a “catastrophe” by insisting candidates be tested for Alzheimer’s disease and disclose those results to the public.