Navigating the enhancement landscape. Ethical issues in research on cognitive enhancers for healthy individuals

Neuroethics Research Unit, Institut de recherches cliniques de Montréal, Montréal, Québec, Canada.
EMBO Reports (Impact Factor: 9.06). 01/2013; 14(2). DOI: 10.1038/embor.2012.225
Source: PubMed
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    • "Questions are being asked not only about feasibility but also about the ethics and societal consequences of developing agents that expand human mental capabilities (Darby, 2010; Sahakian and Morein-Zamir, 2011; Forlini et al., 2013). This surprising surge of interest likely reflects increased understanding of the synaptic mechanisms that encode memory, and new information on how these processes might be disturbed in animal models of various psychiatric disorders. "
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    ABSTRACT: Progress toward pharmacological means for enhancing memory and cognition has been retarded by the widely discussed failure of behavioral studies in animals to predict human outcomes. As a result, a number of groups have targeted cognition-related neurobiological mechanisms in animal models, with the assumption that these basic processes are highly conserved across mammals. Here we survey one such approach that begins with a form of synaptic plasticity intimately related to memory encoding in animals and likely operative in humans. An initial section will describe a detailed hypothesis concerning the signaling and structural events (a "substrate map") that convert learning associated patterns of afferent activity into extremely stable increases in fast, excitatory transmission. We next describe results suggesting that all instances of intellectual impairment so far tested in rodent models involve a common endpoint failure in the substrate map. This will be followed by a clinically plausible proposal for obviating the ultimate defect in these models. We then take up the question of whether it is reasonable to expect, from either general principles or a very limited set of experimental results, that enhancing memory will expand the cognitive capabilities of high functioning brains. The final section makes several suggestions about how to improve translation of behavioral results from animals to humans. Collectively, the material covered here points to the following: (1) enhancement, in the sense of rescue, is not an unrealistic possibility for a broad array of neuropsychiatric disorders; (2) serendipity aside, developing means for improving memory in normals will likely require integration of information about mechanisms with new behavioral testing strategies; (3) a shift in emphasis from synapses to networks is a next, logical step in the evolution of the cognition enhancement field.
    Frontiers in Neuroscience 08/2013; 7(7):143. DOI:10.3389/fnins.2013.00143 · 3.66 Impact Factor
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    • "Although this is out of the scope of this review paper, it is important to mention that this field—inducing paradoxical facilitations with NIBS in healthy subjects—calls for fair and well-balanced discussions on ethics. This discussion should be to some extent in accordance with lines of conduct from the use of other neuroenhancers , such as smart pills (for review Illes and Bird, 2006; Forlini et al., 2013). At this point, whether or not it is ethical to use "
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    ABSTRACT: For ages, we have been looking for ways to enhance our physical and cognitive capacities in order to augment our security. One potential way to enhance our capacities may be to externally stimulate the brain. Methods of non-invasive brain stimulation (NIBS), such as repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) and transcranial electrical stimulation (tES), have been recently developed to modulate brain activity. Both techniques are relatively safe and can transiently modify motor and cognitive functions outlasting the stimulation period. The purpose of this paper is to review data suggesting that NIBS can enhance motor and cognitive performance in healthy volunteers. We frame these findings in the context of whether they may serve security purposes. Specifically, we review studies reporting that NIBS induces paradoxical facilitation in motor (precision, speed, strength, acceleration endurance, and execution of daily motor task) and cognitive functions (attention, impulsive behavior, risk-taking, working memory, planning, and deceptive capacities). Although transferability and meaningfulness of these NIBS-induced paradoxical facilitations into real-life situations are not clear yet, NIBS may contribute at improving training of motor and cognitive functions relevant for military, civil, and forensic security services. This is an enthusiastic perspective that also calls for fair and open debates on the ethics of using NIBS in healthy individuals to enhance normal functions.
    Frontiers in Human Neuroscience 08/2013; 7:449. DOI:10.3389/fnhum.2013.00449 · 2.99 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Introduction: This survey aims to contribute to the current discussion about neuroenhancement by comparing cognitive enhancer(s) (CE) users with CE non-users with a focus on their characteristics and attitudes. Methods: An online survey was sent out to all undergraduate and graduate students of the University of Zürich who allow such e-mails (n=8642), accompanied by advertisement for the survey in lectures. 1765 students completed the survey, which was about healthy people's use of Ritalin, Adderall and/or Modasomil to increase concentration and/or alertness. A complementary paper-and-pencil survey (n=97 students, response rate: 95.1%) was also carried out in order to compare data. Results: Non-therapeutic CE users (6.2%) were more often male, considered religion to be of less importance and had more experience with drugs. CE had been taken for study purposes by 4.7% of all students. CE users had tried Ritalin most often, which about half of them received from friends and colleagues. The CE users had more reasons for and fewer concerns about taking CE than non-users. The most common reasons for both groups were "the effects of learning quicker" and "for finishing more work in less time". The most common concerns for both groups were "the worries about possible side effects" and "the goal of CE to achieve more", and "an unnatural interference of such products with our bodies" (CE-users) or "the gut feeling of not using such products" (CE non-users). Discussion: The comparison of CE users with CE non-users reveals insights about their attitudes, which will add to the understanding of why students take or could imagine taking such products.
    Pharmacopsychiatry 11/2013; 47(1). DOI:10.1055/s-0033-1358682 · 1.85 Impact Factor
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