Tag: research institutes

Bioethics Blogs

Neuroscience hasn’t been weaponized – it’s been a tool of war from the start

A discipline neither good nor evil. Saturday Evening Post/Harris A. Ewing

What could once only be imagined in science fiction is now increasingly coming to fruition: Drones can be flown by human brains’ thoughts. Pharmaceuticals can help soldiers forget traumatic experiences or produce feelings of trust to encourage confession in interrogation. DARPA-funded research is working on everything from implanting brain chips to “neural dust” in an effort to alleviate the effects of traumatic experience in war. Invisible microwave beams produced by military contractors and tested on U.S. prisoners can produce the sensation of burning at a distance.

What all these techniques and technologies have in common is that they’re recent neuroscientific breakthroughs propelled by military research within a broader context of rapid neuroscientific development, driven by massive government-funded projects in both America and the European Union. Even while much about the brain remains mysterious, this research has contributed to the rapid and startling development of neuroscientific technology.

And while we might marvel at these developments, it is also undeniably true that this state of affairs raises significant ethical questions. What is the proper role – if any – of neuroscience in national defense or war efforts? My research addresses these questions in the broader context of looking at how international relations, and specifically warfare, are shaped by scientific and medical expertise and technology.

An Air Force video about military research on the human brain.

Weaponization of a peaceable science?

To understand the relationship between science and war, academic bioethicists, journalists and policy advisors alike typically rely on the framework of “dual use.”

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.

Bioethics Blogs

A Corner on the Neuromarket

By Sol Lee

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.
Sol Lee studies Neuroscience and Behavioral Biology at Emory University. As a pre-med student, he is enthusiastic about primary care and global health concerns. Sol is currently doing research on glutamate receptors in Parkinson’s Disease in the Smith Lab.
Ever since its inception in 2002 [1], neuromarketing has been a rapidly developing and highly controversial field. Neuromarketing employs neuroscience research in order to advertise products and services and is primarily utilized by companies to better understand the brain’s responses to marketing stimuli and advertising [2]. Methods include analysis of galvanic skin response, which can be used to measure stress, and eye tracking, which measures eye location and movement. Common medical research techniques such as functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), which measures brain activity by detecting changes in cerebral blood flow, and electroencephalography (EEG), which measures electrical activity in the brain, are also utilized [3]. With these techniques, neuromarketing promises to create advertising methods that are more impactful and enticing. Although neuromarketing holds much potential in this regard, there are concerns about the ethical implications of this emerging field. Concerns about neuromarketing include the potential for deceptive consumer coercion, infringement of consumer privacy rights, complicating legal ramifications, and inappropriate weighting of private versus public interests. This paper will attempt to address concerns about neuromarketing and propose guidelines for a proper course of action.

Neuroscience technologies used in neuromarketing are relatively new [5].

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.

Bioethics Blogs

Response to Call for Essays: Apple and Google Plan to Reinvent Health Care. Should We Worry?

Editor’s note: This essay responds to an invitation (issued here and here) to submit commentaries on the ethical implications of partnerships between social media companies and biomedical researchers. The invitation is ongoing. 

Wearable devices, social media platforms, and smartphone apps are increasingly being seen as new data sources, capable of capturing complex and continuous personal health information that is relevant to understanding health and disease (see for example here, here and here). This trend has opened the way for major consumer tech companies, which have had little interest in health care in the past, to enter the space of medical research. From Apple’s ResearchKit, which allows researchers to carry out medical studies on iPhones, and the company’s reported forays into DNA collection, to Google’s Baseline Study, which aims to paint a picture of “what it means to be healthy” based on data collected on its devices, and Google Genomics, a cloud service for genomes, Silicon Valley is intent on revolutionizing medicine.

Indeed, in comparison to the new methods of acquiring and managing data that these technologies enable, traditional research models like the randomized control trial feel painfully slow and restricted to small populations, while the computer capacities of universities and hospitals seem antiquated. In the terms we have become accustomed to hearing from Silicon Valley, medical research appears ripe for disruption. As the call for essays and some commentators have pointed out (here and here), however, disruptive innovation in the medical field raises a number of ethical issues that it would be important to think through before the revolution goes forward.

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.

Bioethics Blogs

So are “reprogrammed” stem cells “just as good” as those from embryos?

There is considerable enthusiasm for the use of “reprogrammed” pluripotent stem cells, or iPSCs, for use in the laboratory and as possible cellular treatment for people with certain injuries or diseases.  This enthusiasm is warranted; human iPSCs (hiPSCs) are readily obtained, and without the destruction of a human embryo as is needed to obtain a “natural” human embryonic stem cell (hESC).  Therefore, iPSCs are often described as the “ethical” stem cells.

Just how dissimilar iPSCs may be to “natural” ESCs has been controversial, however.  A recent publication in the journal Nature Biotechnology strongly suggests that while not identical, it may well be that they can be treated interchangeably in the lab or for possible clinical use.

In the paper (journal subscription or $32 online article purchase required), scientists from Harvard, MIT, Johns Hopkins, and other major research institutes in the U.S. and Italy describe an elegant experiment.  They took two previously established hESCs—derived from two different human embryos, to be sure—and let them differentiate into a specific type of adult cell called a fibroblast.  Then they took the fibroblasts and reprogrammed them into hiPSCs using a technique that avoids the risk of making the cells malignant—a risk associated with some other reprogramming methods.  To put it another way, they let the hESCs mature and then “back-translated” them, as it were, to a pluripotent state with the reprogramming step.  (Recall that a “pluripotent” cell is capable of becoming many different adult cell types.)  They did the appropriate experimental controls.

They looked specifically at whether the expression—or transcription into messenger RNA—of the hESCs and the hiPSCs differed. 

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.

Bioethics Blogs

Opening up the animal house

Many, many years ago, while working part time in the press office of one of the UK’s biggest medical research charities, I was appalled to learn that its policy on dealing with all enquiries about experiments involving animals was not to answer them direct. Callers were instead advised to contact the Association of Medical Research Charities for a general statement about policy on animal work.

Admittedly this was in the days when animal rights activism was in one of its more violent phases. But, even so, defensiveness of this kind was hardly calculated to dispel suspicions that what went on in the labs was so appalling that it couldn’t be discussed.

A pressing need for greater openness was recognised in the Nuffield Council on Bioethics’ 2005 report The ethics of research involving animals. Paragraph 15.52 of the report argued that to improve and sustain public trust, researchers at animal research facilities must find more ways to open themselves to dialogue.

“We therefore recommend that those involved in animal experimentation should take a proactive stance with regard to explaining their research, the reasons for conducting it, the actual implications for the animals involved and the beneficial outcomes they intend for society. These discussions should take the form of a two-way process, in which scientists not only inform the public about their research, but also listen to and understand concerns by members of the public.” 

Easy to say – but not so easy to put into effect when the culture that had grown up was one characterised by reticence bordering on secrecy.

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.

Bioethics News

Animal experimentation controversy. Research institutes oppose new initiative by animal rights activists

“Prohibiting animal experiments would very negatively affect new advances”

Animal experiments controversy. European Commission opposes activists initiativeAnimal rights activists sent a letter to the European Commission on 3rd March this year, in which they requested that experiments on animals be banned. Against this proposal, more than 120 different types of research institutes and social organisations have sent another letter to the European Commission opposing this initiative, stating that current legal regulations guarantee the rights of animals used in research, and that prohibiting these experiments would very negatively affect new advances in the field of health (Nature 519, 134,2015, 12-III-2015).

La entrada Animal experimentation controversy. Research institutes oppose new initiative by animal rights activists aparece primero en Observatorio de Bioética, UCV.

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.

Bioethics Blogs

Fundamental overhaul of China’s competitive funding

On 20 October, the Chinese government announced the passage of a reform plan that will fundamentally reshape research in the country.

By 2017, the main competitive government funding initiatives will be eliminated. This includes the ‘863’ and ‘973’ programmes, two channels for large grants that have been at the heart of modern China’s development of science and technology infrastructure since being established in 1986 and 1997, respectively.

Xi Jinping, General Secretary of the Communist Party of China, is behind reforms to overhaul research in the country.

By Antilong (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

The government announcement noted that wastefulness and fragmented management has led to overlaps and inefficient use of funds for science and technology, and the need for a unified platform for distributing grants. As new funding programmes have been added over the years, competitive funding has become divided among some 100 competitive schemes overseen by about 30 different governmental departments.

Although efforts to reorganize science in China are already underway,  the latest reform will be comprehensive. Science and technology spending by the central government was 77.4 billion yuan renminbi (US$12.6 billion) in 2006 but jumped to 236 billion yuan renminbi in 2013, 11.6% of the central government’s direct public expenditure. Some 60% of this is competitive funding, and subject to change under under the new reforms. To maintain stability, the overhaul will not affect the remaining 40%, which covers operation costs for research institutes and key state laboratories.

The new plan, jointly drafted by the ministries of science and technology and the ministry of finance, will reorganize competitive funding into five new channels: the National Natural Science Foundation (which currently distributes many of the small-scale competitive grants); national science and technology major projects; key national research and development programmes; a special fund to guide technological innovation; and special projects for developing human resources and infrastructure.

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.

Bioethics Blogs

Fundamental overhaul of China’s competitive funding

On 20 October, the Chinese government announced the passage of a reform plan that will fundamentally reshape research in the country.

By 2017, the main competitive government funding initiatives will be eliminated. This includes the ‘863’ and ‘973’ programmes, two channels for large grants that have been at the heart of modern China’s development of science and technology infrastructure since being established in 1986 and 1997, respectively.

Xi Jinping, General Secretary of the Communist Party of China, is behind reforms to overhaul research in the country.

By Antilong (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

The government announcement noted that wastefulness and fragmented management has led to overlaps and inefficient use of funds for science and technology, and the need for a unified platform for distributing grants. As new funding programmes have been added over the years, competitive funding has become divided among some 100 competitive schemes overseen by about 30 different governmental departments.

Although efforts to reorganize science in China are already underway,  the latest reform will be comprehensive. Science and technology spending by the central government was 77.4 billion yuan renminbi (US$12.6 billion) in 2006 but jumped to 236 billion yuan renminbi in 2013, 11.6% of the central government’s direct public expenditure. Some 60% of this is competitive funding, and subject to change under under the new reforms. To maintain stability, the overhaul will not affect the remaining 40%, which covers operation costs for research institutes and key state laboratories.

The new plan, jointly drafted by the ministries of science and technology and the ministry of finance, will reorganize competitive funding into five new channels: the National Natural Science Foundation (which currently distributes many of the small-scale competitive grants); national science and technology major projects; key national research and development programmes; a special fund to guide technological innovation; and special projects for developing human resources and infrastructure.

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.

Bioethics Blogs

Fundamental overhaul of China’s competitive funding

On 20 October, the Chinese government announced the passage of a reform plan that will fundamentally reshape research in the country.

By 2017, the main competitive government funding initiatives will be eliminated. This includes the ‘863’ and ‘973’ programmes, two channels for large grants that have been at the heart of modern China’s development of science and technology infrastructure since being established in 1986 and 1997, respectively.

Xi Jinping, General Secretary of the Communist Party of China, is behind reforms to overhaul research in the country.

By Antilong (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

The government announcement noted that wastefulness and fragmented management has led to overlaps and inefficient use of funds for science and technology, and the need for a unified platform for distributing grants. As new funding programmes have been added over the years, competitive funding has become divided among some 100 competitive schemes overseen by about 30 different governmental departments.

Although efforts to reorganize science in China are already underway,  the latest reform will be comprehensive. Science and technology spending by the central government was 77.4 billion yuan renminbi (US$12.6 billion) in 2006 but jumped to 236 billion yuan renminbi in 2013, 11.6% of the central government’s direct public expenditure. Some 60% of this is competitive funding, and subject to change under under the new reforms. To maintain stability, the overhaul will not affect the remaining 40%, which covers operation costs for research institutes and key state laboratories.

The new plan, jointly drafted by the ministries of science and technology and the ministry of finance, will reorganize competitive funding into five new channels: the National Natural Science Foundation (which currently distributes many of the small-scale competitive grants); national science and technology major projects; key national research and development programmes; a special fund to guide technological innovation; and special projects for developing human resources and infrastructure.

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.

Bioethics Blogs

Holding Institutions Responsible for Research Misconduct: the recent case of a death of stem cell scientist

This article is being published simultaneously on the Alden March Bioethics Institute blog, the Knoepfler Lab Stem Cell blog and Signals Blog

Scientist
Yoshiki Sasai, age 52, committed suicide and was found dead on August 5, 2014.
Sasai was deputy director of the Center for Developmental Biology (CDB) at
RIKEN in Kobe, Japan, and coauthor on two recently retracted Nature papers about an easier way to
make induced pluripotent stem cells. The papers were retracted due to duplication
and manipulation of images done by the main researcher and lead author on the
two papers – Haruko Obokata. Although cleared of any direct involvement, Sasai was
under immense pressure and heavily scrutinized by the media, public and peers. This
involved speculation about Sasai’s intentions to orchestrate a media frenzy,
and for being overly ambitious and motivated to win future grants overlooking
the integrity of the science.

According
to colleagues at RIKEN, Sasai was receiving counseling since the scandal broke headlines
and he was also hospitalized for about a month in March (1). He was found hanging
in a stairwell of a neighboring building and beside him were three letters
addressed to CDB management, his laboratory, and Obokata. On August 12,
Kazuhiro Nakamura, the family lawyer explained the contents of Sasai’s suicide
note left for the family. Sasai was “worn out by the unjust bashing in the mass
media and the responsibility he felt towards RIKEN and his laboratory” (2). But
unsubstantiated claims in the media were not the only source of stress for
Sasai. The speculation in tabloids might have also influenced how RIKEN and
other colleagues behaved towards Sasai.

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.