August 2020 NIH BRAIN Initiative Neuroethics and Multi-Council Working Group Meetings

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Recently, members of the NIH BRAIN Initiative Neuroethics Working Group (NEWG) and Multi-Council Working Group (MCWG) discussed racial inequities in neuroscience and biomedicine, COVID-19 impacts on research, and future BRAIN funding.

On August 20th, 2020 the Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative®’s Neuroethics Working Group (NEWG) held its eleventh meeting. The NEWG ensures that neuroethics is fully integrated into the BRAIN Initiative as new tools and technologies emerge. Meeting participants discussed how neuroethics can improve racial inequities in research and ethics related COVID impacts on BRAIN-funded research.

Dr. John Ngai, Director of the NIH Brain Initiative®, kicked off the NEWG meeting by emphasizing the importance of acknowledging and addressing racial disparities in the NIH workforce, among NIH grantees, and in research more broadly. Next, Dr. Kafui Dzirasa (Duke University) and Dr. Frances Shen (University of Minnesota) summarized recent papers on considering ancestry in brain research and the underreporting of race in neuroscience studies. The group proposed including more experts in racial disparities in neuroethics-focused meetings, fostering new research partnerships, and other efforts. There was also an update from the NIH Office of Science Policy on the recently-convened NASEM Committee on the Ethical, Legal, and Regulatory Issues Associated with Neural Chimeras and Organoids.

Next, there was a panel discussion on how COVID has impacted human subjects research. BRAIN-funded panelists Drs. Maria Franceschini (Harvard University), Leigh Hochberg (Brown University), and Sameer Sheth (Baylor College of Medicine) brought to light several ethical issues they are facing, such as balancing different risks and benefits for participants and researchers, appropriately communicating about COVID, and obligations to participants. For more details, please view the NEWG meeting summary (139KB) and archived videocast.

The next day, on August 21st, the BRAIN Initiative’s Multi-Council Working Group (MCWG) convened its seventeenth meeting. The MCWG, which maintains a coordinated effort across the NIH and oversees the long-term scientific vision of BRAIN, discussed the role of BRAIN in enhancing diversity and future BRAIN funding.

Dr. Ngai introduced the new Office of the BRAIN Director, summarized the virtual BRAIN Initiative Investigators Meeting, and highlighted four recent BRAIN-funded studies that used new tools to probe brain function across species. He also overviewed COVID-19 impacts on BRAIN research and NIH-wide efforts to develop vaccines, therapeutics, and tests for the virus. Dr. Ngai then led a conversation about the role of BRAIN in promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion in neuroscience. The group discussed many ways to enhance diversity, such as increasing training opportunities and access to new tools and technologies for those at institutions not typically funded by BRAIN.

Lastly, NIH staff presented one concept for future funding, which focuses on ramping up human brain cell census work. This concept builds upon the years of progress made thus far in non-human species under the BRAIN Initiative Cell Census Network (BICCN). To find out more, please read the MCWG meeting summary (115KB) and archived videocast.

The next NEWG and MCWG meetings will be held on January 26th and 27th, 2021, respectively.