Modern Australian


brain stimulation holds huge promise, but is critically under-regulated

  • Written by Adrian Carter, Senior Research Fellow, Monash University
brain stimulation holds huge promise, but is critically under-regulated

This year, a Chinese patient known only as Mr Yan became a medical pioneer. He agreed to have electrodes surgically inserted into his brain, allowing his surgeon, by touching the screen of a simple tablet computer, to change the emotions that Yan feels.

The treatment aims to help Yan conquer his methamphetamine addiction, but it comes at a substantial cost: Yan must trust someone else to manage his emotions.

Electrically stimulating the brain to treat addiction is a very new technique and its effectiveness is still unknown, but it is currently being trialled in animals and humans.

The technology prompts some difficult questions around responsibility. If Yan relapses, who is responsible? If he commits a crime while implanted with the device, how should he be treated by the courts? And where should neuroscientists draw the line when their research involves desperate and vulnerable people?

Read more: Deep brain stimulation: the hidden challenges of a technological fix

These questions are growing more pressing all the time. Neuroscientific innovations similar to Yan’s electrodes are no longer restricted to the lab, and are already an integral part of many people’s lives. It is already common practice to treat the tremors associated with Parkinson’s disease by placing an electrode in the brains of affected patients. And the medical applications are still expanding: these innovations are seen as a potential treatment for an array of conditions, from anorexia to obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Neurological disorders are a leading — and increasing — cause of global disease, contributing more than 10% of disease burden. Governments around the world, including the US BRAIN Initiative, the European Union’s Human Brain Project, and the Australian Brain Alliance, have invested more than US$7 billion globally in what’s been described by neuroscientists as a 21st-century medical “moon shot”. There has also been a rapid growth in the market for medical “neurointerventions”, such as brain stimulation and recording devices, estimated to be more than US$13.3 billion by 2020.

Better living through electricity

There is even more potential beyond simply treating medical conditions. Neuroscience might one day also boost our existing mental abilities, such as memory and concentration. Headband-like wearable devices that use transcranial direct current stimulation – in which an electric current is passed across the surface of the brain - are currently commercially available and claim to improve concentration and memory. Devices that allow you to track the electrical patterns in your brain have entered the market and claim to maximise your cognitive potential.

These technologies hold great promise. Devices and technological innovations that teach us about ourselves, overcome deficits and enhance mental capacities are clearly attractive consumer items. But Australia is currently dangerously unprepared for the rapid innovation and commercialisation of these neuroscientific advances.

There is insufficent national regulatory oversight of the safety or effectiveness of many commercially available neuroscientific technologies. This leaves consumers vulnerable to fraudulent claims and unwarranted risks.

For example, there is little evidence that the promised memory and concentration enhancements will be realised in the retail versions of transcranial direct current stimulation devices. These devices are not without risk and may cause itching, burns, and headaches and impaired mood, memory and cognition. Appropriate guidelines and regulations are necessary to ensure the public reaps the benefits while minimising the harms.

Australia also does not have clear regulations to compel companies to inform users how their data may be collected and used. When this data concerns our brains, the potential uses and abuses are hard to predict, but early signs are troubling. Smartphones and wearable devices generate data that can be used to identify the warning signs of Parkinson’s disease, depression, dementia, and future suicide risk.

Consumers deserve to know whether this information is being shared with their health insurer, employer, or other third parties.

Time to get hands-on

The researchers and engineers who develop neurotechnologies do not routinely consult with the people who might end up using them. The danger is that this gap is filled by vested interests such as industry advocates, research institutes or regulators.

The Australian Academy of Science recently called for a new charter for responsible innovation that will help involve the public in scientific innovation. There are promising signs that this is indeed starting to happen in neuroscience.

The Australian Brain Alliance, a coalition of more than 30 national universities, medical research institutes and commercial companies, has proposed national guidelines for responsible neuroinnovation, in consultation with patient advocates. This week the Australian Neuroethics Network, with support from the Turner Institute for Brain and Mental Health and the Law, Health and Well-being Group at Monash University and the ARC Centre for Integrative Brain Function, will hold its annual conference on the topic of neuroscience and responsibility to inform decision makers on the influence of neuroscience on Australian society.

Read more: Brain stimulation is getting popular with gamers – is it time to regulate it?

However, there is much more to be done. Realising the full benefits of neuroscientific advances, while minimising the harms, requires careful consideration, and a well-informed public who can actively participate in the discussion.

Brain stimulation and other neuroscientific advances could one day be an integral part of our lives. Now is the best time to ensure they serve all of our interests.

Authors: Adrian Carter, Senior Research Fellow, Monash University

Read more http://theconversation.com/stimulus-package-brain-stimulation-holds-huge-promise-but-is-critically-under-regulated-127726

NEWS

Reserve Bank no longer confident of quick bounce out of recession

Olga Kashubin/ShutterstockThe good news in the Reserve Bank’s latest quarterly set of forecasts is that the recession won’t be as steep as it thought last time.The bad news is it...

At moments like these, we need a cultural policy

Stephanie Lake's dancework Colossus.Yaya StemplerNational crises, like the pandemics that can provoke them, come in stages. Each stage presents leaders with unique problems that require mental, moral and emotional agility...

No, the extra hygiene precautions we're taking for COVID-19 won't weaken our immune systems

ShutterstockDuring the COVID-19 pandemic we’re constantly being reminded to practise good hygiene by frequently washing our hands and regularly cleaning the spaces where we live and work.These practices aim to...

Michelle Grattan on Melbourne's stage four lockdown, Morrison's cyber security package, and paid pandemic leave

University of Canberra Professorial Fellow Michelle Grattan and University of Canberra Assistant Professor Caroline Fisher discuss the week in politics.This week Michelle and Caroline discuss the closure of ‘non-essential’ businesses...

In The Meddler, we join a creeping nightcrawler as he chronicles death

MIFFReview: The Meddler, screening at the Melbourne International Film FestivalFor movie scholars and enthusiasts, one of the worst things about the COVID-19 pandemic has been the shutting down of cinemas...

Concetta Fierravanti-Wells on aged care – what needs to be done differently

The Royal Commission into Aged-Care Quality and Safety delivered it’s interim report in October 2019. Titled ‘Neglect’, it provided a scathing insight into the aged care industry - finding it...

cash for cyberpolice and training, but the cyberdevil is in the cyberdetail

Australia’s long-awaited cybersecurity strategy, released yesterday, pledges to spend A$1.67 billion over the next ten years to improve online protection for businesses, individuals and the country as a whole.The lion’s...

How the 'National Cabinet of Whores' is leading Australia's coronavirus response for sex workers

Tim Wimborne/AAPThis article has links that contain graphic contentMany industries and employees have been hurt by COVID-19. But sex workers, who face stigma and discrimination at the best of times...

We can’t let STEM skills become a casualty of COVID-19

Universities and other research organisations in Australia have been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic.In May, a group led by Australia’s Chief Scientist Alan Finkel forecasted severe impacts for our...

How to keep your contact lenses clean (and what can go wrong if you don't)

ShutterstockYou’re rushing and accidentally drop a contact lens on the bathroom floor. Should you:a) run it under the tap and pop it in?b) spit on it and do the same?c)...

why so little is known about the reasons people go missing

ShutterstockAs part of new research into missing persons in Australia, I have been asking people who return after disappearing what they needed or wanted. Mary, who has gone missing four...

has Donald Trump broken satire?

For a long time, the answer has been yes. When Saturday Night Live, John Oliver and the satirical establishment railed at him, the president’s supporters were only strengthened in their...

Popular articles from Modern Australian

How to supercharge your immune system for cold and flu seasonHow to Avoid Blocked Drains and Stinky OverflowCBD on Cyber Monday: Buying the Best for You5 Beginner Projects You Can Make with Arduino Starter KitWhy Your Outdoor Living Areas Might Benefit From TilesRetirement on the Road: Planning a Post-Retirement Australian Road TripDesign a Pool to Fit Your SpaceHow to Get TEFL Certification for Teaching English in ThailandHow to Find a Lawyer in Sydney for Your Legal RepresentationHow to Pre-Prepare For Your Retirement3 of the most common beginner’s mistakes in table tennisTips to Choose Regular Wear Bands for Your Brand New Apple WatchThe Benefits of Living a Healthy LifestyleHOW TO STUDY ART WITH WIKIART.ORGHow to transform a