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 Division 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.
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.
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. November 2014 NIH neuroethics workshop summary.
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.