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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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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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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.

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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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Consumer Neurotechnology: New Products, More Regulatory Complexity

*This post was originally published on The Neuroethics Blog.

By Anna Wexler

Anna Wexler is a PhD candidate in the HASTS (History, Anthropology, Science, Technology and Society) at MIT and a 2015-2016 visiting scholar at the Center for Neuroscience and Society at the University of Pennsylvania. Her dissertation focuses on the ethical, legal and social implications of emerging neuroscience technology, with a particular focus on the home use of noninvasive brain stimulation.

Just when it seemed like the consumer neurotechnology market couldn’t get any stranger—after all, who would’ve expected that a sleek white triangle could be placed on the forehead for “calm” or “energy” vibes—two new products recently hit the market that further complicate the challenges of regulating this emerging market. Halo Sport is a brain stimulator marketed for athletic enhancement that utilizes technology similar to transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS), while Nervana, which began taking pre-orders in March, is the first noninvasive vagus nerve stimulation (VNS) device to be sold directly to the public in the United States.

Halo Neuroscience, the manufacturer of Halo Sport, advertises that its product “accelerates gains in strength, explosiveness, and dexterity.” In many ways, Halo Sport overcomes obstacles that have plagued other direct-to-consumer brain stimulation products. Because Halo Sport only claims to stimulate the motor cortex—which, conveniently for the company, lies beneath the area of the head where a pair of headphones might sit—the product does not utilize stray wires or a futuristic headset, but instead takes the recognizable shape of headphones. The beneficial effect of a familiar design should not be underestimated: many potentially useful technology tools have failed in no small part due to their unusual “look.”

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Forgeting about Fear: A neuroethics perspective

Excerpt from NEW Leaders Dr. Laura Cabrera post originally published on Michigan State University’s Bioethics in the News page.

 

The alluring possibility of deleting memories has been the topic of movies such as Men in Black, Total Recall, and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, yet in real life the chances of ever achieving such fine-tuned memory erasure is not a realistic bet. But suppose if by taking a pill we could forget about fear and about those things that cause us to be anxious? A New York Times article addressed exactly that possibility with the recent coverage of a drug to “cure” fear—by dampening memory. One factor influencing and shaping memory processes is their emotional intensity. Extensive psychological research and personal experiences confirm that events that occur during heightened states of emotion, such as fear, anger and joy, are generally more memorable than less dramatic occurrences. That research explains why you might remember exactly what you were doing when you found out about 9/11, but not necessarily be able to recall what you had for supper two days ago. Some memories with an intense emotional component might leave individuals susceptible to develop phobias, or possibly even post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Read the rest of the piece here.

 

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Naming the devil: The mental health double bind

*Editor’s note: This post was originally published on The Neuroethics Blog.

By Jennifer Laura Lee

bio_picJenn Laura Lee recently received her undergraduate in neuroscience from McGill University in Montreal, Canada, and hopes to pursue a PhD in neurobiology this fall. Her current interests include the advancement of women in STEM and the ethics of animal experimentation.

 

The Bell Let’s Talk initiative swept through Canada on January 27, hoping to end the stigma associated with mental illness, one text and one share at a time. Michael Landsberg shares his thoughts in a short video on the Facebook page. “The stigma exists because fundamentally there’s a feeling in this country still that depression is more of a weakness than a sickness,” he explains. “People use the word depression all the time to describe a bad time in their life, a down time. But that’s very different than the illness itself.” Perhaps such a bold statement merits closer examination.

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NIH BRAIN Funding for Neuroethics Research

The NIH BRAIN Initiative is now offering funding for neuroethics research in the form of administrative supplements to existing NIH BRAIN Initiative awards.

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Since these supplements are open specifically to investigators currently funded by an NIH BRAIN grant, BRAIN investigators and neuroethics researchers alike should know there is now a funded opportunity to collaborate. A full list of the NIH BRAIN Initiative funded awards is here: http://braininitiative.nih.gov/funding/fundedAwards.htm

Note that the supplement applications are due May 2, and should follow the instructions in PA-14-077 (http://grants.nih.gov/grants/guide/pa-files/PA-14-077.html)

I believe we are seeing the tides shift with this unprecedented opportunity and hope there will be more formal funding mechanisms for neuroethics research in the future. If you’re not already aware, the NIH BRAIN Initiative has created a formal neuroethics workgroup (of which I’m honored to be a part along with NEW Leaders Nita Farahany and many talented others), so please keep an eye out for further neuroethics developments on that front.

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Best wishes and happy brainstorming,

Karen

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The freedom to become an addict: The ethical implications of addiction vaccines

*This post was originally featured on The Neuroethics Blog.
by Tabitha Moses

Tabitha Moses, M.S., is Administrative and Research Coordinator at Lehman College, CUNY, as well as a Research Affiliate at the National Core for Neuroethics at the University of British Columbia. Tabitha earned her BA in Cognitive Science and Philosophy and MS in Biotechnology from The Johns Hopkins University. She has conducted research in the areas of addiction, mental illness, and emerging neurotechnologies. She hopes to continue her education through a joint MD/PhD in Neuroscience while maintaining a focus on neuroethics.

The introduction of “addiction vaccines” has brought with it a belief that we have the potential to cure addicts before they have ever even tried a drug. Proponents of addiction vaccines hold that they will:
  1. prevent children from becoming addicted to drugs in the future,
  2. allow addicts to easily and safely stop using drugs, and
  3. potentially lower the social and economic costs of addiction for society at large.
However, it is critical to be aware of the limitations and risks – both ethical and physical – of introducing these vaccines into mainstream medical care.

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*Editor’s note: This post was originally published on The Neuroethics Blog.

by Carolyn Plunkett

Carolyn Plunkett is a Ph.D. Candidate in the Philosophy Department at The Graduate Center of City University of New York. She is also an Ethics Fellow in The Bioethics Program at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, and a Research Associate in the Division of Medical Ethics at NYU Langone Medical Center. Carolyn will defend her dissertation in spring 2016, and, beginning July 2016, will be a Rudin Post-Doctoral Fellow in the Divisions of Medical Ethics and Medical Humanities at NYU Langone Medical Center. 

This post is part of a series that recaps and offers perspectives on the conversations and debates that took place at the recent 2015 International Neuroethics Society meeting.

 

Karen Rommelfanger, founding editor of The Neuroethics Blog, heard a talk I gave on deep brain stimulation (DBS) at Brain Matters! 3 in 2012. Three years later, she heard a brief synopsis of a paper I presented a few weeks ago at the International Neuroethics Society Annual Meeting. Afterward, she came up to me and said, “Wow! Your views have changed!” I had gone from being wary about using DBS in adults, much less minors, to defending its use in teens with anorexia nervosa. She asked me to write about this transition for this blog, and present my recent research.

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