Bioethicists warn BRAIN Initiative against repeating past mistakes


Bioethicists say President Obama's Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative must include specific ethical considerations throughout the lifecycle of all neurological research to avoid repeating past mistakes.

The president's Bioethics Commission released the first of two reports Wednesday outlining four recommendations for the BRAIN Initiative, which was launched by Obama a year ago to map the human brain. The project is expected to unlock how the brain works so scientists can develop treatments for diseases such as epilepsy, schizophrenia and dementia.

Amy Gutmann, chair of the president's Bioethics Commission, says unethical experiments in the past, such a those involving lobotomies, led the commission to come up with the recommendations.

“Too often in our nation’s past, ethical lapses in research have had tragic consequences and derailed scientific progress,” she said.

Specifically, the commission recommends that ethical issues should be considered early in BRAIN studies and followed throughout the life of the research. It also wants the government to conduct research on existing and new models to integrate ethics in research, as well as make sure scientists at all levels of education are well versed in ethics.

Finally, the commission recommends research advisory committees include bioethics experts to help guide the research.

The commission did not give a date when the next report will be released, but said it will include an analysis of what brain research means ethically for society at large.