February 2024 NIH BRAIN Initiative Neuroethics and Multi-Council Working Group Meetings

On February 12, 2024, the BRAIN Initiative NEWG held its 17th meeting. The NEWG is a group of experts in neuroethics and neuroscience that promotes the integration of neuroethics in NIH BRAIN Initiative activities.  

Dr. John Ngai, Director of the NIH BRAIN Initiative, introduced two new NEWG members: Amy McGuire, JD, PhD, Baylor College of Medicine, and Jen French, MBA, Neurotech Network. He then highlighted a new Notice of Scientific Interest (NOT-OD-24-031) to support research and capacity building efforts related to bioethics and two upcoming conferences: (1) the International Neuroethics Society 2024 conference on April 17-19, 2024, and (2) the 10th Annual BRAIN Initiative Conference on June 16-18, 2024. Dr. Theresa Cruz, Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), and Dr. Christine Grady, Chief of the NIH Department of Bioethics and NEWG Co-Chair, then introduced a panel to discuss potentially unique ethical considerations for neuromodulation clinical trials in pediatric populations. Speakers and attendees discussed the importance of clinicians and researchers protecting children through research rather than from research. Speakers raised ethical issues, including reducing barriers to clinical trial participation by providing accommodations (e.g., transportation), benefit/risk analyses to inform whether a trial should be initiated in pediatric populations, and understanding the limited market size but higher cost of a pediatric trial. Many of the issues explored during the session may not be unique to pediatric neurostimulation research, but the discussion raised unresolved issues that could warrant further exploration. 

Dr. Nita Farahany, NEWG Co-Chair, then introduced three researchers who presented on emerging neuroethics research opportunities. Speakers discussed (1) how neuromodulation may restore personal identity following traumatic brain injury; (2) how functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) data can be used to decode language and how this may help individuals with communication disorders; and (3) how to align academic-industry partnerships on key priorities for neurotechnology research, including intellectual property ownership, data transparency, and informed consent processes. Meeting attendees discussed how personal identity may be broadly impacted by serious illness, how neuromodulation technology could change personal identity, and how patients and family members may interpret these changes differently. Meeting participants also highlighted the need to promote neuroethics resources, such as neuroethics liaisons to clinical trials, within the neuromodulation research field, as well as the biomedical research field more broadly. 

The meeting ended with NEWG members sharing relevant updates, including the Dana Foundation’s open call for submissions for Neuroscience & Society pilot projects and 2024-2025 Civic Science Fellow positions and a National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) Working Group focused on engaging scientists in southeast Asia with responsible innovation. For more details, please view the NEWG meeting summary(pdf, 442 KB) and archived videocast

The next day, the MCWG, which provides oversight to and regularly offers assessments of the progress of current BRAIN projects and programs, held its 27th meeting to discuss updates on BRAIN Initiative programs and new scientific developments.  

To begin the meeting, Dr. Susan Weiss, Designated Federal Official of the MCWG, introduced new MCWG members Dr. Dan Merfeld, Ohio State University; Dr. Alyssa Picchini Schaffer, Simons Foundation; and Lt. Col. Adam Willis, Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). Dr. Ngai provided a summary of the BRAIN Initiative’s team structure and budget. He highlighted the recent National Eye Institute (NEI) Visual NeuroPlasticity Workshop and the upcoming Allen Institute Modeling Software Workshop on July 15-17, 2024. Dr. Ngai also presented an update on the BRAIN Initiative Cell Atlas Network and shared current funding opportunities and notices. Finally, Dr. Picchini Schafer provided an overview of Simons Foundation initiatives, including the Simons Neuroscience Collaborations on the Global Brain and Plasticity and the Aging Brain, the Simons Foundation Autism Research Initiative (SFARI), Flatiron Institute Center for Computational Neuroscience, The Transmitter, and the Synaptic podcast. 

Several new scientific findings and developments from the BRAIN Initiative were highlighted during the meeting, including (1) use of an objective biomarker in management of personalized deep brain stimulation; (2) development of next-generation red and green dopamine sensors with increased sensitivity, selectivity, and signal to noise; and (3) identification of the projections between the thalamus and paraventricular nucleus that underlie maternal oxytocin release in response to infant cries. For more details, please view the MCWG meeting summary(pdf, 218 KB) and videocast

Want to stay updated on the latest BRAIN Initiative activities? Tune in to the next NEWG meeting on August 21 and MCWG meetings on May 14 and August 22, 2024, via NIH Videocast

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black and white image of people working on laptops at a counter height table on stools at the annual BRAIN meeting