Karen Rommelfanger

Karen Rommelfanger is the founder of NEW Leaders. She received her PhD in Neuroscience from Emory University in 2007 and is an internationally-recognized neuroscientist with over 10 years of experience in research innovation in world-leading academic scientific research laboratories. Her past work explores a wide range of research areas from psychiatric disorders (depression, ADHD, drug addiction) to movement neurodegenerative disorders (Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease). Her postdoctoral research focus was on Parkinson’s disease recording the activity of individual cells in the brain. Her current research focuses on placebo and psychogenic movement disorders, and her broader interests include the impact of neuroscience research on society. Karen is currently the Program Director of the Neuroethics Program at Emory and an Assistant Professor of Neurology with a secondary appointment in Psychiatry. She is also the Neuroscience Editor-in-Residence for the American Journal of Bioethics Neuroscience and manages (and founded) The Neuroethics Blog. Her personal site is karenrommelfanger.com

Homepage: https://neuroethicswomenleaders.wordpress.com

Neuroethics Women to Watch

*This piece was originally posted on The Neuroethics Blog on January 23, 2018.


By Judy Illes, CM, PHD,

Immediate Past President, International Neuroethics Society (INS)

Dr. Illes is Professor of Neurology and Canada Research Chair in Neuroethics at the University of British Columbia. Her research, teaching and service focus on ethical, legal, social and policy challenges specifically at the intersection of the brain sciences and biomedical ethics. Her latest book, Neuroethics: Anticipating the Future (Oxford University Press) was released in July 2017. Dr. Illes hold many prestigious awards for her work both in neuroethics and on behalf of women in science. She was appointed to the Order of Canada, the country’s highest civilian award, in December 2017. 

During the two years that I was President of the INS, and really since 2002 overall when we first set the modern neuroethics vision in motion, one of my greatest joys has been to work with outstanding people in our field. I have relentlessly sought to create opportunities for leadership especially among early career neuroethicists who seek to contribute, sometimes in the footsteps of more senior people and sometimes along a completely separate path that they set of their own. My focus has been on the women and men of our field alike and, during my term as President specifically, these opportunities unfolded in different forms. Working with remarkable staff led by Karen Graham (INS Executive Director) since the birth of the INS and Elaine Snell (Chief Operating Officer), and the INS Board, I created an Emerging Issues Task Force, for example, a Rising Star Lecture (Kreitmair, 2017), and many podium opportunities at our annual meetings.

I have always been committed to advancing the careers of young people in neuroscience-related fields, and women in particular. In early 2000, for example, I served as Vice President of Women in Neuroscience (WIN) when WIN was an independent not-for profit organization (Haak, 2002). This continued into 2007 when WIN was merged with the Society for Neuroscience, even while the focus of the effort shifted under the umbrella of professional development. I carried on with my mission in 2008 as Chair of a new IBRO committee that I created at the request of Professor Albert Aguayo called Women in World Neuroscience. Today, as a new member the International Women’s Forum (iwforum.org), a group of more than 6500 women heads of state, leaders in business, industry, and a few in education and research, I am set to learn new ways of harnessing strength and bringing impactful innovation to our neuroethics sister- and brotherhood.

In keeping with the general theme of women in academia and my special focus on neuroethics, I think about women in our field. Honestly, you will see, my reflections are gender nonspecific. I am, however, inspired by the fact that this piece appears in the NEW blog, a creation of Karen Rommelfanger that seems to grow in number and richness all the time. I won’t name names of those to watch in the future, but I will point out a few who have shaped us to get where we are today. Patricia Churchland, for example, my lifelong mentor, immediately comes to mind. She is well known to us in neuroethics and one of the earliest and deepest thinkers in our field (Churchland, 1991). Helen Mayberg is a force at every level imaginable. Besides her warmth, I call out her scientific rigor and distinction. Rarely acknowledged for the depth of her support is Barbara Gill, Executive Director of the Dana Foundation. She is a leading light for us.

Before them, Alexandra Pontius claimed in an ardent email to William Safire to be one of the first to use the word neuroethics in the context of research (Pontius, 1993). We never managed to engage Professor Pontius in the INS, although it would have been excellent to have her anthropology insights and expertise at the table. Further back in time, well before we ever spoke about neuroethics per se (although Ron Cranford had been using the term neuroethics for years in the clinical context of end of life and neurological care [1989]), there were heroes who were practicing a form of clinical neuroethics in their own way. The Montreal-born physician Lucille Teasdale Corti, for example, was one of ten women among the 110 students enrolled at the University of Montreal’s Faculty of Medicine in 1950. Dr. Teasdale dedicated herself to a career of career of surgical care and training in sub-Sahara, Africa. In 1982, in the course of an operation in the AIDS-plagued region, this Canadian great contracted and eventually succumbed to the disease. Imagine the diversity and extent of CNS-related co-morbidities she saw and treated.

What are some key attributes of these and other extraordinary women? Creativity, foresight, vigor, patience and resilience. Let me describe how I see the importance of these attributes in the neuroethics leaders of the future:

Creativity: We need to think about what lies beyond Western lands and the principles that come from them, such as consent, autonomy, and justice. Too narrowly construed, they will not suffice as new technology is continuously integrated into our daily life and, in some cases, overtaking it. Gender, ethnicity, and culture are also taking on ever greater importance in how we think about health, therapy, self-improvement, and self-preservation. Fundamentalism is on the rise again. Creativity is needed to ensure porous, respectful solutions to difficult ethics problems challenging brain health in the very definition of humanity.

Foresight: Neuroscience is moving fast. Neuroethics has to move faster. We need not only to keep up but stay ahead of technological progress. Our strength is in the way we anticipate and positively address upcoming challenge.

Vigor: The energy we have exerted to situate neuroethics firmly alongside neuroscience discovery and traditional bioethics inquiry has served well to give us credibility and visibility. I do not think sustainability is a risk any longer, but complacency is our enemy. I read this 1950s quote from Dr. Teasdale during a recent visit to the Museum of Human Rights in Winnipeg, Manitoba: “If you are convinced by what you are doing, if you truly believe in it, then you stay. There is no other way.” 

Patience and resilience: Our world is inundated with violations of fairness. We do not see this in neuroethics per se, but discrimination and inequity are ubiquitous in the academy and industry in which neuroethics resides. Change will not come overnight; continued efforts to undo historical trends come with patience, and with patience comes resilience.

Let’s embrace these attributes and pursue neuroethics careers that are, as neuroscientist Nobelist Dr. Rita Levi Montalcini said in an interview: “…enriched by excellent human relations, work and interests.” (“Rita Levi-Montalcini, pioneering Italian biologist, dies at 103″. The Guardian. 20 December 2012. Retrieved 29 November 2016.)

Let’s make the next 15 years of neuroethics even better than the first.


Churchland PS, Roy, DJ, Wynne, BE, Old RW. (Eds.) (1991) Our Brains, Our Selves – Reflections on Neuroethical Questions, Bioscience-society, John-Wiley and Sons, 177-196.

Cranford, R.E. The Neurologist as Ethics Consultant and as a Member of the Institutional Ethics Committee. (!989). The neuroethicist. Neurologic Clinics, 7:4,697-713

Haak, L.L. Women in Neuroscience (WIN): The First Twenty Years. (2002) Journal of the History of the Neurosciences, 11:1,70-79.

Kreitmair, K. The Seven Requirements for Ethical Consumer Neurotechnologies. (2017) INS Annual Meeting, November 10-11, 2017, Washington, DC.

Pontius, A.A. (1993) Neuroethics vs Neurophysiologically and Neuropsychologically Uninformed Influences in Child-rearing and Education. Psychol. Rep. 72, 451–458

Want to cite this post?

Illes, J. (2018). Neuroethics Women to Watch. The Neuroethics Blog. Retrieved on , from http://www.theneuroethicsblog.com/2018/01/neuroethics-women-to-watch.html


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Meet-a-Member: Anna Swartz

UnknownAnna K. Swartz is in the final semester of her Master’s degree in the Humanities department at Michigan Technological University, where her advisor is Dr. Syd Johnson. Prior to graduate school, Anna received a BA in anthropology from Wellesley College. Her academic passion centers on the study of mental health. Her research interests are at the intersections of philosophy, discourse analysis, critical disability studies, and cultural studies.

The focus of Anna’s work in neuroethics has been on the brain disease model of mental disorders and how over-reliance on this paradigm might contribute to the stigmatization and marginalization of people with mental illness. She is especially interested in the development of classification systems for mental disorders, with special attention to schizophrenia.

Anna is currently looking at the ways that prevailing neurobiological discourses in psychiatry influence the phenomenology of mental illness. In other words, how do modern understandings of mental illness as brain diseases impact the contextualized and unique lived experience of diagnosed individuals, including how diagnoses intervene upon a patient’s sense of self, and how that self-identity might come to be reconstituted as a result. She is especially interested in the ways that language enters into all aspects of treatment and recovery, including sense of self. In the context of the therapeutic relationship, adopting the dominant, neurobiological lexicon of psychiatry may provide patients with a way to communicate with clinicians without risk of being misunderstood or subjugated, but using a language that is not one’s own may result in a silencing of the patient that may involve feelings of alienation and loss of agency. This problem has broad implications for the recovery and well-being of patients with mental illness; research shows that the brain disease model of mental illness may actually exacerbate stigma and, in some cases, reduce clinician empathy toward patients.

Anna’s other areas of research in neuroethics involve mental health in the carceral system. In the US, there are ten times as many mentally ill persons in jails and prisons than in state psychiatric hospitals. The overflowing corrections system has become a de facto inpatient psychiatric system, but jails and prisons are designed to confine and punish, not rehabilitate. They are not therapeutic spaces and are often responsible for exacerbating illness. Correctional mental healthcare—and the widespread trend toward privatizing these services—is an under-appreciated problem in the field.

Anna plans to begin her doctorate next year at Michigan Tech. Her personal blog, www.annaswartz.com, contains a collection of research and personal writing on mental illness and disability. Twitter: @sansceriph.


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Annual NEW Leaders Dinner & Drinks at INS (DC)

JOIN US FOR FOOD AND DRINK (each person will be responsible for his/her bill)

Catch up with old friends and collaborators and make new ones along the way!


Date: Friday, November 10, 2017
• Time: 7:30pm until 9:30pm
• Location: ReRen Lamen & Bar
ReRen Lamen & Bar is 0.4 miles (<10 min walk) from the AAAS headquarters (where the INS meeting will be held) 817 7th St NW Washington, DC. Phone: (202) 290-3677

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RSVPs were collected and we have just a few (2-3) extra slots. Contact Karen Rommelfanger (krommel@emory.edu) if you want one of them!


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Meet-a-Member: Dr. Karen Herrera-Ferrá

2016-05-27-bn-52Dr. Karen Herrera-Ferrá, MD: Founder and President of the Mexican Association of Neuroethics, Mexico City, Mexico

Karen Herrera-Ferrá lives in Mexico City and founded the Mexican Association of Neuroethics on July 2015. She is currently finishing a PhD program on Bioethics.
She was a visiting scholar at the Pellegrino Center for Clinical Bioethics (PCCB) at Georgetown University and then stayed to complete a one-year Post-doctorate in Neuroethics. She has a MA on Clinical Psychology, a Certificate on Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and another one on History of Religions. She has a one-year fellowship on Psychosis and another on OCD. She also has studies on Psychiatry and has a MD.

On May 2016 she developed a national project to formally introduce and develop neuroethics in her country, the main foci of this project is to depict and include national leaders in mental health, interested in neuroethics, so to inform and divulge this discipline among scholars and society. She also works as a mental health clinician in a private hospital, teaches Ethics and Health to third-year medical students, lectures in different hospitals and Universities in Mexico and is an Affiliated Scholar of the Neuroethics Studies Program at the PCCB at Georgetown University.

Her interests and research focuses on two main topics: Recurrent violent behavior and globalization of neuroethics in Latin America. In the former, she proposes to classify recurrent violent behavior as a psychiatric classifier as well as approaching it with advanced integrative convergence sciences (AISC) within the bio-psycho-social model and analyzing neuroethico-legal-social and political issues and concerns. In the latter work in progress, she analyses neuroethico-legal-social and political issues and concerns of the clinical use of neuroscience and neurotechnology in Latin America, specifically Mexico, including cultural, ethnical, economical and political caveats.

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Meet-a-Member: Professor Bryn Esplin

12548838_10153905837289802_2977472484748385609_n-1Bryn S. Esplin joined the Department of Humanities in Medicine at Texas A&M University after completing a two-year Clinical Ethics Fellowship at the Cleveland Clinic in Cleveland, OH.

She graduated cum laude from the University of California, Berkeley, with a degree in Rhetoric before pursuing her law degree. During law school, she externed with both the Supreme Court of Nevada and the Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health in Las Vegas, NV, where she developed her passion for neuro-psychiatric ethics under the supervision of Dr. Dylan Wint.

Professor Esplin’s teaching brings together law, medicine, and popular culture to help students critically examine the social, ethical, and political implications that underlie medical decision-making. She currently teaches Clinical Ethics to first-year medical students, as well as an elective for third-year medical students that analyzes the social and philosophical meaning of death—including death by neurological criteria, the historical preoccupation with premature burial, the political consequences of neuro-enhancement, and the coming (or arrival) of cyborg technology.

She is a frequent speaker at both national and international conferences in Bioethics and Humanities, and her scholarship has appeared in numerous peer-reviewed journals, including Psychosomatics, Harvard’s Health and Human Rights Journal, The Journal of Clinical Ethics, and the American Journal of Bioethics, Neuroscience.

Current research projects include the use of placebos in functional disorders, as well as contemporary issues in law and clinical psychiatry regarding fiduciary duty and confidentiality.

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Join Us at International Neuroethics Society on Friday, Nov. 11, 2016 @ 7:30 pm.

JOIN US FOR FOOD AND DRINK BY THE HARBOR (each person will be responsible for his/her bill)

Catch up with old friends and collaborators and make new ones along the way!


• Date: Friday, November 11, 2016
• Time: 7:30pm until 9:30pm
• Location: Sally’s Fish House and Bar. One Market Place, San Diego, CA 92101. Phone: 619 358 6740
• Sally’s is 0.7 mile (15-min walk) from the Westin Gaslamp (where the poster session will be held)


Please RSVP to Karen Rommelfanger (krommel@emory.edu) by Tuesday, November 1st at 5pm EST.

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Meet-a-Member: Sahar Zafar

s-zafar-picSahar Zafar is currently a doctoral candidate, focusing on Health and Research Policy (ABD) at the University of Baltimore. She currently holds a Master of Science in Biotechnology, with a concentration in Biodefense, from Johns Hopkins University. She has over 10 years of experience regulating Federal and Department of Defense (DoD) human subjects research (HSR) policies and HSR operations. Ms. Zafar currently manages the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s (DARPA) human subjects research protection program, by ensuring that all Federal and DoD policies and regulations are followed with the highest ethical standards. She regularly participates as a subject matter expert on Assistant Secretary of Defense Research and Engineering Directorate (ASD R&E) panels for Federal and Defense human subjects research policies at conferences and meetings.

Ms. Zafar is currently working on her dissertation titled “Ethical, Legal and Societal Implications of Neuroscience and Technology Research and its Impact on Public Policy.” The central research question to be addressed in this study is how neuroscience and technology (neuro S/T) research addresses significant societal barriers to its public distribution and use. To conduct this study she has selected two programs from DARPA, and the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The programs selected were based on their development of neuro S/T that can be translated into use by the general public in the future.

In the current phase of her research, she is in the process of interviewing, agency personnel who are administrators, policy makers and/or science/technology specialists at DARPA, and NIH. Interviews that are being conducted with agency personnel are being conducted to understand strategies for implementation of initiatives and allocation of funding. Along with, institutional participants at DARPA, and NIH, interviews are being conducted with scientists and researchers conducting the funded neuro S/T researchers . These interviews should assist in establishing ethical and legal dimensions in public policies associated with neuro S/T research.

At the conclusion of this research study, the proposed hypotheses will either be accepted or rejected. Potentially, the data collected from this study can assist in drafting of guidance documents, policies, and educational material, about neuro S/T. These documents can assist in educating the general public, specifically the key demographics directly affected by this research about the actual efforts that are going into development of these technologies and the work of the agencies and researchers to mitigate the ethical, legal and societal implications of neuro S/T.

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Meet-a-Member: Dr. Nada Gligorov

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Nada Gligorov holds a PhD in Philosophy from the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. She is an associate professor in the Bioethics Program of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. She is also faculty for the Clarkson University-Icahn School of Medicine Bioethics Masters Program. In 2014, Nada founded the Working Papers in Ethics and Moral Psychology speaker series–a working group where speakers are invited to present well-developed, as yet unpublished work. This series has hosted speakers from Columbia, NYU, Cornell, Rutgers, and CUNY.

The primary focus of Nada’s scholarly work is the examination of the interaction between commonsense and scientific theories. Most recently, she authored of a monograph titled Neuroethics and the Scientific Revision of Common Sense forthcoming in 2016 (Studies in Brain and Mind, Springer). In this book, Nada examines the particular relationship between developments in neuroscience and commonsense moral concepts. Common sense, she argues, has been misinterpreted as a static, either foundational or degenerative, basis of our morality. She argues instead that common sense is an ever-shifting repository of theories from many domains. Within this discussion, Nada focuses on the application of neuroscience to human beings, i.e., the ethics of neuroscience. She also covers issues within the purview of the neuroscience of ethics, and she addresses the infiltration of neuroscientific knowledge into everyday parlance and the consequent impact on our commonsense morality and psychology. In particular, in her book, Nada examines the evolving influence of neuroscience on such concepts as free will, privacy, personal identity, pain, and death.

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Integration without reduction: What the philosophy of empathy can learn from mirror neurons

*This post was originally published on The Neuroethics Blog.

by Georgina Campelia

Georgina Campelia is currently a Ph.D. Candidate in Philosophy at the Graduate Center, CUNY, working under the supervision of Virginia Held. Her dissertation, “Virtue’s Web: The Virtue of Empathic Attunement and the Need for a Relational Foundation,” develops an account of empathic attunement, defends its status as a virtue, and sketches a relational ontology of virtue that would better accommodate the relationality of this and other important virtues.

More broadly, Georgina’s research focuses on ethics and feminist theory, with particular interests in virtue ethics, care ethics, empathy, the interdependence of ethics and epistemology, and interrelational conceptions of persons. Georgina’s work extends this theoretical work to neuroethics and medical ethics, where much of her research concerns using virtue ethics and care ethics to guide patient care, establishing structures to enable and encourage empathy, and creating greater awareness of the relational constitution of patient identity and medical decisions.

Georgina is currently an affiliate instructor at the Montefiore Einstein Center for Bioethics, where she teaches in their Certificate and Masters Programs. She also serves on the Steering Committee at the New York Society for Women and Philosophy (NYSWIP) and is a co-organizer of SWIPshop (a workshop for feminist philosophy).

As the lack of empathy in the world has become particularly apparent and troubling in light of the resistance to offering asylum for Muslim refugees (see this recent article from The Guardian), perhaps it makes sense that the study of empathy is booming (Coplan, 2014; Decety, 2012; de Waal, 2009). Philosophers question and defend its moral worth (Bloom, 2014), psychologists and primatologists consider its nature and origin (Hoffman, 2000; Waal, 2012), and neuroscientists explore its metaphysical structure (Singer, 2009; Zaki & Ochsner, 2012). Empathy offers a distinctive ground for interdisciplinary work and, yet, little has been done to advance cross-field communication. While some popular work offers broadly incorporated perspectives (de Waal, 2009), and there are some anthologies that include multiple disciplines (Coplan & Goldie, 2014; Decety, 2012), there is room for more robustly integrated research.

Image of a baby macaque imitating facial expressions courtesy of Wikimedia.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Meet-a-Member: Dr. Keerthi Shetty

AAEAAQAAAAAAAAUwAAAAJDFiZjIwNDFhLTc4M2YtNDAzZi1hNTA1LTNkMzg0YjhkZDQ5MAKeerthi Shetty is a Hellman Fellow in Science and Technology Policy at the American Academy. She contributes to several projects in the Science, Engineering, and Technology program including the Public Face of Science, Human Performance Enhancement, the Alternative Energy Future, and New Models for U.S. Science and Technology Policy. The Human Performance Enhancement Project is a project aimed as exploring societal and ethical issues around invasive and noninvasive cognitive enhancement technologies. Keerthi joined the American Academy after completing her doctoral work in immunobiology at Yale University. Keerthi’s thesis research involved studying the recruitment of RAG1 and RAG2—two important proteins of the immune system that help create antibodies—to chromatinized DNA during V(D)J recombination. At Yale, she was the co-president of the Yale Science Diplomats, a science policy group. Leading this organization, Keerthi helped develop a science lecture series for local high schools and the general public, organized policy writing workshops and seminars, and contacted legislators about funding issues concerning biomedical research. She was also named an eIntern for the State Department’s Virtual Student Foreign Service program, where she assisted with global science and technology projects. Keerthi holds a Ph.D. in immunobiology from Yale University and an A.B. in molecular biology from Princeton University.

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