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Neuroethics and the NIH BRAIN Initiative

By Khara Ramos and James Churchill

This post is the final one in our series featuring authors who have received the Neuroethics R01 (Research Project Grants) supported by the NIH BRAIN Initiative. These research projects specifically address prominent ethical issues arising from emerging technologies and advancements in human brain research.

Image Courtesy of NIH Image Gallery
The NIH-led Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies® (BRAIN) Initiative is revolutionizing our understanding of how the brain works through its creation of new tools and neurotechnologies. These new approaches are delivering unprecedented opportunities to understand and modulate brain circuit function. For example, BRAIN-funded scientists have used brain signals recorded from patients with epilepsy to program a computer to mimic natural speech; developed a tissue support system that preserves limited function in an isolated postmortem animal brain; and engineered a responsive deep brain stimulator to treat essential tremor.

These neuroscientific advances can raise important and compelling ethical questions. For instance, the BrainEx study mentioned above sparked worldwide news coverage when it was published in Nature in April 2019, re-igniting long-standing debates on the biological and legal understandings of brain death.

To leverage neuroethics as a discipline that can help frame and strengthen neuroscience research, and to promote integrating ethical considerations into the day to day conduct of BRAIN-funded science, the NIH BRAIN Initiative has implemented a multi-faceted strategy to help identify and navigate/address the neuroethical implications of the development and application of BRAIN-funded tools and neurotechnologies. This neuroethics program includes funding neuroethics research projects, hosting workshops that focus on neuroethical considerations in specific areas of BRAIN-funded research, and managing the Neuroethics Working Group (NEWG), who have published guidance on key ethical challenges associated with BRAIN-funded research.

Image Courtesy of NIH Image Gallery
In 2017 the NIH BRAIN Initiative began using the R01 funding mechanism to support research focused on unique neuroethics issues associated with BRAIN Initiative research. To date there have been twelve R01 projects supported through these efforts with an annual call for additional projects. Funded projects cover an array of neuroethics topics such as agency, capacity for informed consent, and cognitive restoration with particular consideration of the potentially different perspectives of patients, families, researchers, and the public. In addition, the Initiative has used administrative supplements to encourage the integration of neuroethics perspectives and frameworks into the fabric of the research supported by BRAIN.

More information is available online regarding the NIH BRAIN Initiative, and its Neuroethics Program and Neuroethics Working Group.

Disclaimer: The views expressed are the authors’ own and do not reflect those of the National Institutes of Health, the Department of Health and Human Services, or the United States government.


Khara Ramos, PhD, is a neuroscientist and Director of the Neuroethics Program at the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) at NIH. She serves as Executive Secretary of the Neuroethics Working Group of the NIH BRAIN Initiative and co-leads the trans-NIH BRAIN Initiative neuroethics project team.

James Churchill, PhD, is a neuroscientist, serving as Senior Advisor to the Director at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) at NIH. He co-leads the trans-NIH BRAIN Initiative neuroethics project team.

Want to cite this post?

Ramos, K. and Churchill, J. (2020). Neuroethics and the NIH BRAIN Initiative. The Neuroethics Blog. Retrieved on , from


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