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.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

A Review of Gut Feminism

By Katie Givens Kime

Katie Givens Kime is a doctoral student at Emory University in the Graduate Division of Religion, as well as the Center for Mind, Brain and Culture, and the Psychoanalytic Studies Program. Her dissertation investigates the role of religious conceptions in addiction recovery methods.

As neuroscience has expanded in capacity, resources, and public attention, many in the social sciences and humanities have been loudly critical: “Reductionism! Neurobiological chauvinism!” The essence of such critique is that the objectivity championed by the sciences masks all sorts of hidden biases, unconscious agendas, political motivations and economic purposes. Many historians and philosophers of science have argued that even choosing the object of scientific study and communicating observations inevitably involves language, point-of-view, and value prioritization. This means the nature of scientific knowledge, to an important degree, is unavoidably sociocultural [1].

Feminist theory has leaned more heavily upon this critique than other social sciences, for reasons at the roots of feminist movements. Essentialist claims about the “biology” and “nature” of women’s bodies have historically justified all manner of public policy, cultural conventions, and medical care models that violate and oppress women and other historically vulnerable populations, from the right to vote to equal pay. Thus, when it comes to the engagement of neurobiological data of most any sort, feminist theory is a realm of scholarship where deep suspicion has reigned. Projects revealing the sexism, racism, and classism embedded in the structures of supposedly objective scientific inquiry have been crucial for the success of various waves and stages of feminist liberation movements.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Neuroethics and the BRAIN Initiative

By Henry T. Greely

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 in Neuroscience in Society; chairs the California Advisory Committee on Human Stem Cell Research; and serves on the Neuroscience Forum of the Institute of Medicine, the Advisory Council for the National Institute for General Medical Sciences of NIH, 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 practice in Los Angeles in 1981 as a litigator with the law firm of Tuttle & Taylor, Inc. He joined the Stanford faculty in 1985.

On April 2, 2013, President Obama launched the Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative®. (Neuroscience has yet to reveal why an initiative about the brain had to have an acronym that spelled BRAIN; * legal issues explain the trademark notation.) Built on the report, BRAIN 2025: A SCIENTIFIC VISION, of a committee created to advise Francis Collins, the NIH Director, and chaired by neuroscientists Cori Bargmann of Rockefeller University and Bill Newsome of Stanford, the Initiative, in spite of political deadlock and budgetary woes, has survived and, in some respects, even thrived.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Erasing Memories

By Walter Glannon, PhD

Walter Glannon, PhD, is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Calgary. He is the author of Bioethics and the Brain (Oxford, 2007) and Brain, Body and Mind: Neuroethics with a Human Face (Oxford, 2011) and editor of Free Will and the Brain: Neuroscientific, Philosophical and Legal Perspectives (Cambridge, 2015).

Neuroscientists can measure changes in the brain associated with different types of memory. Recent experiments on rodents have shown that memories can be manipulated. In one experiment, researchers implanted a false fear memory in a mouse brain, causing it to elicit a fear response to a stimulus to which it was not actually exposed [1]. In a different experiment, researchers electrically stimulated place cells in a mouse hippocampus as well as cells in the reward system during sleep. This induced learned behavior where mice linked a specific location to a reward [2].  This type of manipulation may eventually serve a therapeutic purpose in humans.  Psychiatric disorders including subtypes of major depression, generalized anxiety, phobia, panic and especially post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can be conceptualized as disorders of memory content. In such a model, the neural representation of the emotional component of the memory, or emotional trace, of a traumatic experience persists beyond any adaptive purpose. This causes dysregulation in the fear memory system, resulting in pathology associated with impaired cognitive, affective and volitional functions [3, 4]. I’d also like to propose that unlike disorders of memory capacity, such as anterograde or retrograde amnesia, where one cannot form or retain memories, the problem in disorders of memory content, like PTSD, is the inability to get rid of or “extinguish” them.