Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Should you read more because a neuroscientist said so?

By Lindsey Grubbs

Lindsey Grubbs is a PhD student in the English Department at Emory University, where she is also working on a certificate in bioethics. She holds a master’s degree in English and gender studies from the University of Wyoming. She is interested in the relationship between literature and science, and works with American literature from the nineteenth century until today to interrogate and complicate the boundaries between health and wellness, normalcy and aberrance, and physical and mental complaints.

As neuroscientists begin to approach topics usually falling under the purview of other specialties, how can they ethically incorporate various forms of knowledge rather than provide simplified metrics that will, in a data hungry society, be easier for most to latch onto?

In 2013, we saw the publication of at least two high profile studies claiming neuroscientific proof for the potential moral benefits of reading fiction. Greg Berns and his associates published “Short- and Long-Term Effects of a Novel on Connectivity in the Brain” in Brain Connectivity (Berns, Blaine, Prietula, & Pye, 2013), and David Comer Kidd and Emanuele Castano published “Reading Literary Fiction Improves Theory of Mind” in Science (Kidd & Castano, 2013). The Berns article makes a relatively modest claim: the day after an evening session reading a novel, test subjects had short-term increased brain connectivity in areas of the brain associated with taking perspectives and understanding narratives, and longer-term connectivity that lasted several days in the bilateral somatosensory cortex, which the authors suggest could help explain the mechanism of “embodied semantics,” the idea that there is somatosensory involvement in the processing of language, as when tactile metaphors like “I had a rough day” activate the somatosensory cortex (Lacey, Stilla, & Sathian, 2012). As suggested by its title, the Kidd and Castano piece makes a more dramatic claim: the authors conducted five experiments and write that reading award-winning literary fiction improves subjects’ theory of mind both alone and in comparison to nonfiction or popular bestselling fiction. The reaction to these studies in the press follows the trend of a mania for neuroscientific evidence and colorful images of the brain1.  Why is it necessary, though, to grant scientific authority more weight as evidence than other forms of knowledge?

Via The Wire

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Predicting Alzheimer's Disease: Potential Ethical, Legal, and Social Consequences

By Henry T. Greely, J.D.


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 directs the Stanford Center for Law and the Biosciences and the new Stanford Program in Neuroscience and Society  SPINS). He is also a member of the AJOB Neuroscience Editorial Board.

Would you want to know the date and time of your death? Life-Line, the first published fiction by Robert A. Heinlein, one of the giants of 20th century science fiction, explored that question. The story’s protagonist, Hugo Pinero, had invented a machine that could tell precisely when individuals would die, but, as Pinero found to his distress, he could not intervene to change their fates.

Would you want to know whether you would be diagnosed with Alzheimer disease (AD)? This question is rapidly leaving the realm of science fiction; indeed, it already has for some unlucky people. Our ability to predict who will suffer from this evil (and I chose that word carefully) condition is proceeding on several fronts and may already be coming into clinical use.

This post will briefly note the ways in which AD prediction is advancing and what some of the ethical, legal, and social implications of such an ability would be, before asking “should we care?”

Via the BBC

Friday, June 6, 2014

June 9th and 10th: President's Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues at Emory University

The Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues is an advisory panel that counsels the President on bioethical issues in light of scientific and medical advances. Most recently, the panel published Gray Matters: Integrative Approaches for Neuroscience, Ethics, and Society as a part of the Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative. This document touched on relevant ethical issues related to neuroscience and made recommendations for integrating ethics into various facets of neuroscience research, education, and policy making.

On June 9–10, 2014, a public meeting of the President’s Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues will be taking place at Emory University in the Rollins School of Public Health Building. The complete agenda is listed here, but the Commission will discuss the BRAIN Initiative and current work taking place in the field of neuroscience. Watch the live webcast and follow AJOB Neuroscience on Twitter if you are unable to attend!



Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Brain Imaging and Neurofeedback: Has Fiction Become Reality?

By Carolyn C. Meltzer, MD

Dr. Carolyn C. Meltzer is a professor at the Emory University School of Medicine Departments of Radiology and Imaging Sciences, Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, and Neurology. She is also a member of the AJOB Neuroscience Editorial Board.

“Power is in tearing human minds to pieces and putting them together again in new shapes of your own choosing.”
George Orwell, 1984


In the iconic geopolitical thriller “The Manchurian Candidate,” advanced mind control techniques are used on a Korean War prisoner to turn him into an assassin. As we move into an era in which functional neuroimaging may be applied in ways akin to “mind reading,” such as applied to lie detection and economic choices, this fictional work more closely mimics reality.

Functional neuroimaging tools have helped us to tease out neuronal networks and to better understand how we think and act in health and disease. With the exception of few specific instances of validated clinical use (such as mapping of exquisite cerebral cortex prior to resecting a nearby tumor), most behavioral functional imaging studies require group, rather than individual data.

New research has focused on exploiting brain-computer interfaces that address therapeutic approaches to neurological and psychiatric conditions in individualized care settings. Recording brain activity and using it to modulate behavior or motor activity - or to seek a specific therapeutic outcome - has spawned the field of neurofeedback. Initial applications have used invasive approaches, such as deep brain stimulation in movement disorders and medically intractable depression. More recently, emphasis has turned to non-invasive approaches. Florin and colleagues (2014) demonstrate how real-time magnetoencephalography (MEG) source imaging may modulate the activity of targeted specific brain regions reinforced by visual subject feedback.