Neuroethics

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) BRAIN Initiative supports neuroethics research projects that examine the ethical and societal implications of BRAIN-funded tools and technologies. The neuroethics program uses a variety of methodological and theoretical approaches to identify and analyze key neuroethical topics and ultimately help guide the development of BRAIN Initiative research and the application of BRAIN research findings.  

The NIH BRAIN Initiative neuroethics program oversees both investigator-initiated research project grants as well as facilitated collaborations to embed neuroethicists into BRAIN-supported research.  

An overarching goal of the neuroethics program is to support high quality neuroethics research that is complementary to and integrative with the discoveries being supported through the NIH BRAIN Initiative.

What is neuroethics?  

  • Neuroethics is a field that studies the ethical, legal, and societal implications of neuroscience. The strategic plan for the NIH BRAIN Initiative, BRAIN 2025: A Scientific Vision, emphasizes: “Although brain research entails ethical issues that are common to other areas of biomedical science, it entails special ethical considerations as well. Because the brain gives rise to consciousness, our innermost thoughts and our most basic human needs, mechanistic studies of the brain have already resulted in new social and ethical questions.” Neuroethics can help address these questions(pdf, 360 KB).

Why is neuroethics important for neuroscience? 

  • Neuroethics is an essential partner to neuroscience. It can serve to anticipate and address ethical questions raised by neuroscience research. It can help guide neuroscience research and the application of neuroscience research findings. 

  • The NIH BRAIN Initiative is committed to considering ethics in a serious and sustained manner. Furthermore, “BRAIN Initiative research should hew to the highest ethical standards for research with human subjects and with non‐human animals under applicable federal and local laws” (BRAIN 2025: A Scientific Vision).  

How does the NIH BRAIN Initiative contribute to neuroethics? 

NIH has a multi-part strategy to achieve proactive, ongoing assessment and management of the neuroethical implications of the development and application of BRAIN-funded tools and neurotechnologies. This strategy is described in a recent publication in the Journal of Neuroscience. The strategy includes: 

  • Managing the Neuroethics Working Group.  

  • Funding neuroethics research projects. Neuroethics projects can use a variety of methodological and theoretical approaches to identify and analyze neuroethical questions. The NIH BRAIN Initiative aims to support high quality neuroethics research that is complementary and integrative with the discoveries being supported through the BRAIN Initiative.  

  • Facilitating collaborations to integrate neuroethics into neuroscience research.  

  • Scanning the NIH BRAIN Initiative research portfolio to identify ethical questions. 

  • Organizing workshops on neuroethics topics that are important for the NIH BRAIN Initiative. 

What funding is available for neuroethics? 

  • In fiscal year 2017, NIH began funding neuroethics research as part of the BRAIN Initiative. The neuroethics funding opportunity has supported research addressing core ethical issues associated with human brain research and resulting from emerging technologies and advancements supported by the BRAIN Initiative.   

  • Through the NIH Office of Science Policy (OSP), administrative supplements are available to support research on bioethical issues, and/or support efforts to develop or augment bioethics research capacity. 

Related Information  

Brain Behavior Quantification and Synchronization program

NIH pairs cutting-edge neuroethics with ground-breaking neurotechnologies

Neuroscientists and Neuroethicists Work Together to Enhance Neuroscience Research 

Contact  

For questions related to funding opportunities or program areas, please find contact information below. For public inquiries, please use our Contact Us form.

Jay Churchill, Ph.D. 
National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH
churchillj@mail.nih.gov 

Nina Hsu, Ph.D. 
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS
nina.hsu@nih.gov