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

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

What is Feminist Neuroethics About?

By Ben Wills

Ben Wills studied Cognitive Science at Vassar College, where his thesis examined cognitive neuroscience research on the self. He is currently a legal assistant at a Portland, Oregon law firm, where he continues to hone his interests at the intersections of brain, law, and society.

As the boundaries of what may be considered “neuroethics” extend with the development of new kinds of technologies and the evolving interests of scholars, its branches encounter substantial structures of adjacent scholarship. “Feminist neuroethics” is a multidimensional construct and a name that can be afforded both to approaches that fall within the bounds of mainstream neuroethics and metatheoretical challenges to the scope and lines of debate within neuroethics. While acknowledging that scholarship at the intersections of academic feminism/gender studies, feminist science studies, ethics, and neuroscience is much more substantial and diverse than I’m considering here, my modest aim in this post is to highlight how the label “feminist neuroethics” has been used to look at what scholars consider important for neuroethics. In so doing we can see what scholars in these fields see as worth highlighting when identifying their work as such.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Neuroeconomics and Reinforcement Learning: The Concept of Value in the Neuroscience of Morals

By Julia Haas

Julia Haas is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Philosophy at Rhodes College. Her research focuses on theories of valuation and choice.

Imagine a shopper named Barbara in the pasta aisle of her local market.  Just as she reaches for her favorite brand of pasta, she remembers that one of the company's senior executives made a homophobic statement. What should she do? She likes the brand's affordability and flavor but prefers to buy from companies that support LGBTQ communities. Barbara then notices that a typically more expensive brand of pasta is on sale and buys a package of that instead. Notably, she doesn't decide what brand of pasta she will buy in the future.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Dangerous Love and Anti-Love Drugs: Neuroethics & Public Health Problems

By Kelsey Drewry

Kelsey Drewry is a student in the Master of Arts in Bioethics program at the Emory University Center for Ethics where she works as a graduate assistant for the Healthcare Ethics Consortium. Her current research focuses on computational linguistic analysis of health narrative data, and the use of illness narrative for informing clinical practice of supportive care for patients with neurodegenerative disorders.

The half-priced heart-shaped boxes of chocolates lining grocery store shelves serve as an undeniable marker of the recent holiday. Replete with conceptions of idyllic romance, Valentine’s Day provides an opportunity to celebrate partnership, commitment, and love. However, for those experiencing heartbreak or unrequited love, Cupid may be a harbinger of suffering rather than giddy affection.

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.