Strong interest has surfaced for addressing neuroethical implications of burgeoning neuroscience research efforts around the world, as captured by the annual Global Neuroethics Summit. The long-term scientific plan for the NIH BRAIN Initiative, BRAIN 2025: A Scientific Vision, details the importance of integrating neuroethics throughout the research supported by BRAIN. The plan acknowledges that brain research entails ethical issues that are common to other areas of biomedical science, while raising special ethical considerations as well. Given that consciousness, our innermost thoughts, and our most basic human needs arise from the brain, mechanistic studies of the brain regularly produce important social and ethical questions. Indeed, neuroscience research in general and the BRAIN Initiative specifically, with its focus on unraveling the mysteries of the human brain, generate many important ethical questions about how these new tools could be responsibly incorporated into medical research and clinical practice.
In recognition of this, NIH established a Neuroethics Working Group, which is composed of neuroethics experts and neuroscientists. This working group serves to help ensure neuroethical considerations are fully integrated into the NIH BRAIN Initiative, provides input to the BRAIN Multi-Council Working Group about ethical issues in current and proposed areas of BRAIN investment, holds consultations on individual BRAIN projects, and conveys information to investigators on identifying and addressing ethical issues. The Neuroethics Working Group organizes topical workshops that explore neuroethical implications of BRAIN Initiative research; topics to date have included research with human neural tissue and human neuroscience research utilizing invasive and non-invasive neural devices, and privacy of brain activity data. Grounded in BRAIN research and informed by the scientific priorities outlined in BRAIN 2025, the Neuroethics Working Group developed a set of Guiding Principles to help frame and navigate the neuroethical questions that BRAIN-funded research will prompt.
In fiscal year 2017, NIH began funding neuroethics research as part of the BRAIN Initiative. The neuroethics funding opportunity announcement specifically sought to support efforts addressing core ethical issues associated with research focused on the human brain and resulting from emerging technologies and advancements in research and development supported by the BRAIN Initiative. The hope is that efforts supported under this funding opportunity might be both complimentary and integrative with the transformative, breakthrough discoveries being supported through the BRAIN Initiative.
Additionally, NIH announced support for administrative supplements to embed ethicists into BRAIN Initiative supported research and is encouraging applications to PA-18-591 to incorporate neuroethics perspectives and approaches into existing BRAIN Initiative awards. Supplement applications are encouraged from ongoing BRAIN Initiative projects that can readily incorporate core ethical issues associated with research focused on the human brain and also projects developing emerging technologies and advancements in research and development supported by the BRAIN Initiative. The intent of this administrative supplement is to support efforts that would be both complementary and integrative with the transformative, breakthrough neuroscience discoveries supported through the BRAIN Initiative. As an administrative supplement, the proposal must be within the scope of the research that is already supported. Research proposed in supplement applications should have clear relevance to the BRAIN Initiative.
Jay Churchill, Ph.D.
National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)
Khara Ramos, Ph.D.
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS)