MONTREAL, May 22, 2014 /CNW Telbec/ - Over the past several decades,
neurostimulation techniques such as transcranial direct current
stimulation (tDCS) have gradually gained favour in the public eye. In a
new report, published yesterday in the prestigious scientific journal Neuron, IRCM ethics experts raise important questions about the rising tide of
tDCS coverage in the media, while regulatory action is lacking and
ethical issues need to be addressed.
TDCS is a non-invasive form of neurostimulation, in which constant, low
current is delivered directly to areas of the brain using small
electrodes. Originally developed to help patients with brain injuries
such as strokes, tDCS is now also used to enhance language and
mathematical ability, attention span, problem solving, memory,
coordination, and even gaming skills. Recently, states the report, tDCS
has caused excitement in the lay public and academia as a ''portable,
painless, inexpensive and safe'' therapeutic and enhancement device.
"Despite these claims, the effects of tDCS are hard to predict,"
explains Eric Racine, PhD, Director of the Neuroethics research unit at
the IRCM who supervised the research project. "The safety and efficacy
of tDCS have only been demonstrated in controlled laboratory settings
and, without supervision, the use of tDCS for enhancement might cause
serious adverse effects such as temporary respiratory paralysis."
The report shows the amount of publicly-available information on tDCS
has increased dramatically in recent years, both in academic literature
and print media articles. IRCM researchers analyzed the available
information and found a considerable mismatch in tone and focus between
academic and print media articles.
While academic articles focused on therapeutic and investigative uses of
tDCS, discussions in print media articles mainly concentrated on
potential enhancement uses, as well as therapeutic applications. In
addition, media discussions have been optimistic, with little
information concerning ethical issues, therapeutic limitations, or side
effects that could result from widespread use, whereas academic
articles usually involved a more balanced discourse.
"We encountered strong and potentially misleading statements about the
real-world effects and applications of tDCS in print media headlines,"
says Veljko Dubljevic, PhD, postdoctoral fellow in the IRCM's
Neuroethics research unit and first author of the report. "In our
entire sample of media articles, only 3.5 per cent advised caution or
mentioned the possibility of adverse effects."
Given the nature of tDCS and the lack of oversight governing its use,
the report explains that academic and print media discourse could shape
the public's risk-benefit perceptions, impact the uptake of this
technology, and, consequently, lead to negative implications for
ethical and regulatory oversight.
"With the rapid evolution of tDCS in the public domain and in academia,
we recommend three areas of action to tackle the social, ethical and
policy implications," adds Dr. Dubljevic. "First, to curtail
misunderstandings about tDCS, professional societies, researchers and
government agencies should work toward increasing neuroscientific
literacy by providing objective neutral data to the media and the
public. Second, tDCS devices, as well as their marketing and
manufacturing standards, need to be monitored and regulated. Training
and licensing procedures should also be considered. Finally, we believe
that physicians and other clinicians should become actively engaged in
the discussion about ethical, clinical and policy aspects of tDCS."
"The current regulatory gap means that tDCS is readily available as a
service, product, or even a homemade device, in many countries without
any guidance being provided by policy makers," concludes Dr. Racine. "A
response to the policy and regulatory aspects of tDCS is urgently
About the study
This research project was funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities
Research Council. Authors for this report also included Victoria
Saigle, research assistant in the IRCM's Neuroethics research unit. For
more information, please refer to the article published online by Neuron: http://www.cell.com/neuron/abstract/S0896-6273(14)00389-4.
About Eric Racine
Eric Racine is Associate IRCM Research Professor and Director of the
Neuroethics research unit. He obtained a PhD in applied human sciences
(bioethics) from the Université de Montréal. Dr. Racine is Associate
Research Professor in the Department of Medicine (accreditation in
Social and Preventive Medicine and in Bioethics) at the Université de
Montréal. He is also Adjunct Professor in the Department of Medicine
(Division of Experimental Medicine) and the Department of Neurology and
Neurosurgery at McGill University. Dr. Racine is an affiliate member of
the Biomedical Ethics Unit at McGill University. He is a Research
Scholar from the Fonds de recherche du Québec - Santé. Dr. Racine's
research is designed to improve the ethical aspects of quality of care,
research practices and public communications in the domain of clinical
and basic neuroscience. For more information, visit www.ircm.qc.ca/racine.
About Veljko Dubljevic
Veljko Dubljevic is a postdoctoral fellow in the Neuroethics research
unit at the IRCM. He obtained a PhD in political science and political
theory at the University of Belgrade, and completed the qualification
requirements for a PhD in philosophy and neuroethics at Universities of
Tübingen and Stuttgart (dissertation defense scheduled in June). Dr.
Dubljevic's primary research interests include the ethics of
neuroscience and technology, and the neuroscience of ethics. His other
interests include bioethics, political theory, moral theory, business
ethics, and philosophy of law. He has over 30 publications in moral,
legal and political philosophy and in neuroethics. He is also engaged
in the activities of the International Neuroethics Society (INS) and
serves as a member of the INS's Communications Committee.
About the IRCM
Founded in 1967, the Institut de recherches cliniques de Montréal (www.ircm.qc.ca) is currently comprised of 35 research units in various fields, namely
immunity and viral infections, cardiovascular and metabolic diseases,
cancer, neurobiology and development, systems biology and medicinal
chemistry. It also houses four specialized research clinics, eight core
facilities and three research platforms with state-of-the-art
equipment. The IRCM employs 425 people and is an independent
institution affiliated with the Université de Montréal. The IRCM Clinic
is associated to the Centre hospitalier de l'Université de Montréal
(CHUM). The IRCM also maintains a long-standing association with McGill
University. The IRCM is funded by the Quebec ministry of Economy,
Innovation and Export Trade (Ministère de l'Économie, de l'Innovation
et des Exportations).
SOURCE: Institut de recherches cliniques de Montréal (IRCM)
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