January 2023 NIH BRAIN Initiative Neuroethics and Multi-Council Working Group meetings

Colorful pathways in a human brain.

Last month, members of the NIH BRAIN Initiative Neuroethics Working Group (NEWG) and Multi-Council Working Group (MCWG) discussed health-related technologies that affect the brain, BRAIN updates, neural mechanisms of spatial attention, and more.  

On January 24, 2023, the BRAIN Initiative Neuroethics Working Group (NEWG) held its 15th meeting. The NEWG is a group of experts in neuroethics and neuroscience that ensures the integration of neuroethics in NIH BRAIN Initiative activities. 

Dr. John Ngai, Director of the NIH BRAIN Initiative, updated the group on BRAIN Initiative neuroethics activities, including a funding supplement for integrating bioethics into current projects and a past NEWG workshop on continuing responsibilities for participants of neural implant trials. Next, Dr. Christine Grady, RN, PhD, chief of the NIH Department of Bioethics and NEWG co-chair, welcomed Nita Farahany, JD, PhD, as the new NEWG co-chair. Dr. Farahany highlighted a few neuroethics topics, including the potential benefits and risks of neural modulation, and how ethical considerations may vary for different types of interventions (e.g., invasive devices vs. wearable technologies). 

The NEWG meeting continued with case study presentations on closed-loop neuromodulation in an individual with treatment-resistant depression and the use of virtual reality to manage post-operative pain and opioid use. The NEWG discussed the ethical implications raised by these studies and other health-related technologies that affect the brain. Then, Dr. Nina Hsu, Science Committee Specialist for the NEWG, moderated a session of roundtable updates by NEWG members and announced initial plans for an upcoming workshop on data privacy and sharing, currently planned for summer 2023. For more details, please view the NEWG meeting summary and archived videocast

The next day, the Multi-Council Working Group (MCWG) held its 24th meeting to discuss BRAIN updates and neural mechanisms of visual spatial attention.  

To kick off the meeting, Dr. John Ngai thanked Kristen Jordan, PhD and David Markowitz, PhD, for their service on the MCWG and introduced a number of new members, including: 

  • Hugo Bellen, DVM, PhD, the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) representative  

  • Jennifer French, MBA, at-large working group member and Executive Director and Founder of Neurotech Network  

  • Amy Bernard, PhD, representing the BRAIN Initiative Alliance as a non-federal ex officio member  

  • Robert Rahmer, MBA, the new representative from Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA)  

  • Gopal Sarma, MD, PhD, the new representative from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) 

Next, Dr. Ngai summarized the NIH BRAIN project team structure, provided a budget overview, noting the increase in Congressionally appropriated funds for the BRAIN Initiative in fiscal year 2023, recapped recent NIH BRAIN events, and highlighted progress made over the years. He reminded the group of a few upcoming events, including the 9th Annual BRAIN Initiative Meeting, which will take place on June 12-13, 2023, and updated the group on the Plan for Enhancing Diverse Perspectives (PEDP), emphasizing its ongoing incorporation into BRAIN and other funding opportunity announcements across NIH. Dr. Ngai also highlighted current funding opportunities and discussed two recent BRAIN-funded studies on characterizing astrocyte diversity and morphology and quantifying naturalistic behavior in marmosets. 

The MCWG meeting continued with an update on NEWG activities and a presentation on the role of the locus coeruleus (LC) in visual spatial attention by MCWG member, John Maunsell, PhD. The MCWG discussed how the LC may contribute to other sensory modalities, cognition, neurotransmitter release, and the integration of sensory stimuli via neural circuits. For more details, please view the MCWG meeting summary and videocast

Want to stay updated on the latest BRAIN Initiative activities? Tune in to the next MCWG and NEWG meetings via NIH Videocast on May 24 and August 28, 2023, respectively!