Bioethics Blogs

Neuroimaging in Predicting and Detecting Neurodegenerative Diseases and Mental Disorders

By Anayelly Medina

This post was written as part of a class assignment from students who took a neuroethics course with Dr. Rommelfanger in Paris of Summer 2016.

Anayelly is a Senior at Emory University majoring in Neuroscience and Behavioral Biology. 

If your doctor told you they could determine whether or not you would develop a neurodegenerative disease or mental disorder in the future through a brain scan, would you undergo the process? Detecting the predisposition to or possible development of disorders or diseases not only in adults but also in fetuses through genetic testing (i.e. preimplantation genetics) has been a topic of continued discussion and debate [2]. Furthermore, questions regarding the ethical implications of predictive genetic testing have been addressed by many over the past years [4,8]. However, more recently, neuroimaging and its possible use in detecting predispositions to neurodegenerative diseases as well as mental disorders has come to light. The ethical questions raised by the use of predictive neuroimaging technologies are similar to those posed by predictive genetic testing; nevertheless, given that the brain is the main structure analyzed and affected by these neurodegenerative and mental disorders, different questions (from those posed by predictive genetic testing) have also surfaced.

Computerized Axial Tomography (CAT), Positron Emission Tomography (PET) and radioactive tracers, Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI), and Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) are all current neuroimaging technologies used in the field of neuroscience. While each of these technologies function differently, they ultimately all provide information on brain functioning or structure. Furthermore, these neuroscientific instruments have, in recent years, been used to explore the brain in order to determine predictive markers for neurodegenerative diseases and mental disorders, such as Parkinson’s disease, Schizophrenia, Huntington’s disease, and Alzheimer’s disease [1,9,11,12].

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.