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Special Neuron issue highlights central role of neuroethics in global neuroscience research

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Holly Korschun

A special issue of the journal Neuron includes an extended feature on neuroethics that links the seven component brain initiatives of the International Brain Initiative and the work of the Human Brain Project. 

Karen Rommelfanger, PhD, and co-authors lead the issue with an editorial, titled “Neuroethics: Think Global” that describes the special focus on neuroethics as marking “a cultural shift within the neuroscience community” highlighting the necessity and value of integrating neuroethics into the neuroscientific enterprise globally.

Rommelfanger is director of the neuroethics program at the Emory Center for Ethics and assistant professor of neurology at Emory University School of Medicine. Co-authors of the editorial are Sung-Jin Jeong of the Korea Brain Research institute, Mariela Zirlinger and Caroline Montojo.

Rommelfanger and Jeong also are co-chairs of the Neuroethics Workgroup of the International Brain Initiative (IBI), an alliance of nationally funded large-scale neuroscience research initiatives that aims to advance neuroscience through international collaboration and knowledge sharing.

“Neuroethics has become a partnership that anticipates the ethical consequences of neuroscience research, addresses challenges and obstacles early in the process, and thereby advances impactful neuroscience research,” notes Rommelfanger.

The global proliferation of large-scale neuroscience research initiatives includes the  corresponding growth of neuroethics teams, say the editorial authors. Neuroethics has moved beyond questions about responsible conduct of research and now includes questions such as:

What is the moral status of engineered brain models related to cognition? How can invasive and non-invasive brain technologies affect or reduce autonomy, decision making, emotion and will, and what is the nature of mind?

In collaboration with the National Science Foundation, the Kavli Foundation and other key stakeholders from existing and emerging brain projects, the IBI recognizes neuroethics as one of its top priorities. The special Neuron issue follows a year-long effort of engagement and discussion within each of the seven existing and emerging brain projects around the globe, culminating in priority areas for neuroethics at the 2018 Global Neuroethics Summit.

These priorities include the need for true bi-directional community engagement about neuroethics; re-mapping neuroethics education and research to incorporate cross-cultural sensibilities that demonstrate their relevance to a global audience; and addressing cross-cultural issues in neuroscience innovation given the changing landscape of public-private partnerships in translation of neuroscience and its products into the public domain. 

Rommelfanger also is an author of a Neuron article titled “The NIH BRAIN Initiative: Integrating Neuroethics and Neuroscience. BRAIN 2025: A Scientific Vision, is a strategic plan within the U.S. Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnolgies (BRAIN) Initiative, and the authors describe the BRAIN Initiative’s ongoing efforts to integrate neuroethics into its science.  This includes the dedicated Neuroethics Working Group, which recently published a set of Neuroethics Guiding Principles. These guiding principles are described in an additional feature:

Neuroethics Questions to Guide Ethical Research in the International Brain Initiatives.

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