Pictured: New Neuroethics Canada logo, designed by the team’s own Marianne Bacani. “It was important to us to represent how interdisciplinary our team is; this logo represents that. We are each distinct, different parts that, when we come together, become another complete entity.”
Since 2007, the National Core for Neuroethics has been an international leader in biomedical research ethics under the direction of Dr. Judy Illes, Canada Research Chair in Neuroethics. For more than a decade, Dr. Illes has been influential in shaping the discourse around ethical implications of emerging technology and brain research topics; now, newly rebranded as Neuroethics Canada, Dr. Illes’ team is looking to expand the scope of ethicists’ roles in Canada and move beyond the confines of academia and its communities.
“We have spent the last ten years building a reputation for research excellence,” explains Dr. Illes. “We want to spend the next ten years putting that research to work, influencing policy and public opinion on issues of brain health, technology, and science communication.”
The strength of the team at Neuroethics Canada is in its interdisciplinary nature. They have increased their numbers, nearly tripling the number of faculty at the Core, boast more than 100 alumni engaged in academia, industry and government positions, and countless collaborations with scientists, clinicians, scholars and engineers around the world. Their research spans a wide range from the ethics of brain technologies, patient engagement in healthcare and research, improving health literacy, to the role of AI in treating memory loss and dementia.
“Diversity is our lens, and our ability to tackle key questions about brain, ethics and human values through different angles is unique,” says Dr. Julie Robillard, who was recently appointed to the position of Associate Director of Neuroethics Canada. “I’m enthusiastic about what we’ve built, and what’s to come; seeing students and trainees at all levels, from undergraduate to postgraduate, thrive and contribute to the field of neuroethics makes me truly proud.”
Indeed, the future for neuroethics in Canada holds promise.
“With this milestone anniversary, we’re excited to revitalize our emphasis on the role of ethics in decision-making and public health,” says Dr. Illes. “We really want to be sure that research is accountable to the public, and aligned with fundamental Canadian values. Our role is about making sure that ethics are a part of research and health policy design, and we’ve never been in a better position to do that.”
On the heels of Brain Awareness Week (BAW), the team is looking forward to engaging more with the local technology sector, especially in the area of neurotechnology and social media, where opportunities to partner in developing better, more ethically informed applications are abundant, especially in Vancouver where the tech sector will continue to grow in the coming years.
“We’re encouraged that some of the biggest innovators in the technology and engineering space do recognize the value of imbuing ethics into every aspect of the innovation to commercialization pipeline,” says Dr. Illes. “Part of our evolution with Neuroethics Canada is about focusing on the impacts of decisions in research and innovation – we’ve even revised our mission statement to be more meaningful in its emphasis on impact over process and method alone.”
Dr. Illes dreams of a Canada in which “neuroethics” is common parlance – and where Neuroethics Canada is a household name. This may not be blue-sky thinking – a recent BAW event at the Vancouver Public Library drew more than 300 participants, leading the group to have to find a larger venue than planned due to a keen interest from the public. Neuroethics community events have drawn increasing audiences over the past few years, with demand growing for a better understanding of the way changing technologies affect our societies.
“Technological innovation is changing the way we live, and ethicists have an important role in partnering with industry and government,” says Dr. Illes. “Technology is going to continue to change our lives, and we are well positioned to lead the charge in ensuring that the research our government funds and the products it endorses are beneficial to Canadians and improve health and wellbeing for everyone.”