Neuroethics Working Group

drawing of a brain with two colored sides

In their report BRAIN 2025: A Scientific Vision, the BRAIN working group of the Advisory Committee to the NIH Director wrote: “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.” Indeed, neuroscience research in general and The BRAIN Initiative specifically, with its focus on development of new research tools and technologies, generate many important ethical questions related to the conduct and use of neuroscience research. In recognition of this, NIH has established a Neuroethics Working Group of the BRAIN Multi-Council Working Group (MCWG). In broad terms, the division will recommend overall approaches for how the NIH BRAIN Initiative might handle issues and problems involving ethics.

Charge to the Group

  • Recommend overall approaches for how the BRAIN Initiative should handle issues and problems involving ethics.
  • Inform the MCWG on research questions important for BRAIN that could be answered through focused Funding Opportunity Announcements.
  • Consider proposed funding areas for BRAIN projects for questions of ethical risk.
  • Examine selected projects or applications for ethical concerns and, when appropriate, provide an ethics consultation.
  • Draft relevant guidance documents to address critical ethical issues associated with BRAIN research.

Roster

  • Co-chair Christine Grady, MSN, PhD, Chief, NIH Department of Bioethics
  • Co-chair Hank Greely, JD, Stanford Law School (MCWG member)
  • Winston Chiong, MD, PhD, University of California, San Francisco
  • James Eberwine, PhD, University of Pennsylvania (MCWG member)
  • Nita Farahany, JD, PhD, Duke School of Law
  • L. Syd M Johnson, PhD, Michigan Technological University
  • Bradley Hyman, MD, PhD, Massachusetts General Hospital (MCWG member)
  • Steve Hyman, MD, Broad Institute
  • Karen Rommelfanger, PhD, Emory University
  • Elba Serrano, PhD, New Mexico State University (MCWG member)
  • Khara Ramos, PhD, NINDS – Neuroethics Division Executive Secretary and NIH liaison

BRAIN Neuroethics Working Group and Related Meetings

The sixth meeting of the Neuroethics Working Group (formerly Neuroethics Division) will be on Monday, February 11th in Bethesda, MD. A meeting agenda and videocast link for the open session will be provided at a later date. A summary and archived videocast footage of the open session of the meeting will be posted after the meeting is completed.

Related Meetings

On March 28, 2018, the NIH BRAIN Initiative held a workshop entitled, "Research with Human Neural Tissue", on the NIH campus in Bethesda, MD. 

The NIH Clinical Center Department of Bioethics in association with the Neuroethics Working Group of the Multi-Council Working Group of the NIH BRAIN Initiative organized a one-day symposium, "Ethical Issues in Research with Invasive and Non-Invasive Neural Devices in Humans", on Thursday, October 26, 2017.

  • This workshop considered ethical issues and practical approaches specific to research with invasive and non-invasive neural devices. The day began with a brief overview of the state of the science with neural devices (session 1), followed by three sessions that discussed ethical challenges and solutions: risk and invasiveness, challenges in informed consent, and post-trial responsibilities. 
  • The goal of the workshop was to draft points to consider on these topics for investigators, IRB members, and BRAIN Initiative program officers, as well as to identify areas where more research and guidance is needed. 
  • Videocast of "Ethical Issues in Research with Invasive and Non-Invasive Neural Devices in Humans" symposium

Previous Working Group Meetings

The sixth meeting of the Neuroethics Working Group (formerly Neuroethics Division) occurred Monday, August 13th at the Porter Neuroscience Building on the NIH campus. 

The fifth meeting of the MCWG Neuroethics Division occurred Friday, January 19th, 2018, and will be hosted by our co-chair Hank Greely at Stanford. 

The fourth meeting of the MCWG Neuroethics Division occurred Wednesday, August 16th, 2017, in Building 31 6C/Room 6. 

The third meeting of the MCWG Neuroethics Division occurred on Tuesday, February 14th, 2017, at the NIH Porter Neuroscience Research Center (35 Convent Dr., Bethesda, MD 20892).

The second meeting of the Neuroethics Division occurred on Wednesday, August 3rd, 2016, at 815 14th Street NW, Washington, DC. 

The first meeting of the Neuroethics Division occurred on Tuesday, February 9th, 2016, at 6001 Executive Boulevard, Rockville, MD. 

Neuroethics Working Group Resources

cover of booklet for neuroethics gray matters

In launching The BRAIN Initiative in 2013, President Obama noted that neuroscience advances may raise ethical issues that require careful reflection and analysis. He charged the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues to identify proactively a set of core ethical standards to both guide neuroscience research, and address ethical dilemmas raised by the application of neuroscience research findings. Dr. Amy Gutmann, Chair of the Commission, noted: “While we received our charge as part of the President’s BRAIN Initiative, our focus is wider than the Initiative…President Obama asked us to review the ethical consideration of neuroscience more broadly.” The Commission held public stakeholder meetings in August 2013, December 2013, and February 2014, and issued a two-part report to respond to the rapidly emerging and evolving field of neuroscience. Gray Matters: Integrative Approaches for Neuroscience, Ethics, and Society and Gray Matters: Topics at the Intersection of Neuroscience, Ethics, and Society.

blue brain with mapping of points

On November 3, 2014, NIH convened a workshop entitled Ethical Issues in Neuroscience Research. The workshop brought together three dozen researchers, clinicians, bioethicists, and patient organization representatives, along with leadership from the National Science Foundation, the Food and Drug Administration, and NIH, to identify five to ten high priority areas for NIH-supported research that can inform policies pertaining to either the ethical conduct of neuroscience research or the ethical use of neuroscience research. A full summary of the workshop is posted online in the November 2014 NIH neuroethics workshop summary.

rainbow color profile view of brain

The NIH Blueprint for Neuroscience Research, known as "Blueprint", is a collaborative framework that includes the NIH Office of the Director and 15 NIH Institutes and Centers that support research on the nervous system. By pooling resources and expertise, Blueprint identifies cross-cutting areas of research, and confronts challenges too large for any single Institute or Center. Visit the Blueprint website to learn more about the organization and its priorities.