EBRA-NEURON workshop on ‘Neuroethics and quality assurance’, January 26th, 2021

The European Brain Research Area project — EBRA — was created in November 2018 as a catalysing initiative for brain research stakeholders (scientists, clinicians, patients, governments, funders and public institutions) to streamline and better co-ordinate brain research across Europe while fostering global initiatives.

NEURON’s task as project partner is to accelerate excellence, innovation and translation, and foster exchange by promoting Open Science and promoting quality assurance in research. Why that? Brain research in Europe is a rapidly evolving field. Investigating the complexity of physiological brain functions and brain disorders fosters development of novel tools and approaches towards a better understanding of basic brain functions, and generating opportunities for novel diagnostic and therapeutic approaches.

In December 2020 the European Commission (EC) published a reproducibility report: In the past decade the need to address inefficiencies of the research process gained recognition. According objectives are:

  • To avoid useless and costly repetition – and this is a most important item for funding organisations, as those invest tax payers’ money and regard it as unethical to sacrifice repeatedly small numbers of animals instead of one confirming approach on an adequate number of animals
  • To prevent the propagation of methodological mistakes, and to facilitate the translation of results into innovations.

These objectives can be pursued by increasing the openness and the transparency of all steps of the research process, to increase the likelihood that Research & Development results will be valid, and therefore reliable and reusable. Any lack of reproducibility has a negative impact on public trust in the conclusions of science. The trustworthiness of research results is crucial for scientists and indispensable for citizens. Necessary steps are:

  • To not foster negative perceptions of science it is of utmost importance to implement Open Science and the FAIR data principle, a set of old and new practices aimed at enhancing the scientific process.
  • To address and promote Open Science in research it is necessary to broadly inform and support the research community in the implementation of (future) pre- and clinical research that is credible, contributory, communicable, and conforming.

owever, the implementation of Open Science requires compliance of pre-clinical as well as clinical research with standards and guidelines on research design, conduct, analysis and reporting.

EBRA and NEURON have established a cooperation with the ‘Quality, Ethics, Open Science, and Translation Center’, Berlin Germany, and organized a pilot workshop on “Quality assurance in Biomedical Research” in January 2019. Next, spring schools for Early Career Researchers were held in March and in October 2020 as online events.

Recently, a second workshop on ‘Neuroethics and quality assurance’ (opens in Youtube) welcomed Prof. Ulrich Dirnagl (Charité, QUEST, Berlin, Germany) and his talk: Your bench is closer to the patient bed than you think!; Prof. Daniel Strech (Charité, QUEST, Berlin, Germany) and his talk: How to safeguard the value of animal research.

Scientific and technological developments are crucial for brain research and treatment of brain disorders, so it is not surprising that exactly these gains in knowledge play a central role in ethical issues and associated consequences from that research. The brain plays a fundamental role in our psycho-social make up and so it is natural that although ethical questions are not unique to neuro-technologies, they take on greater significance.

Therefore, the workshop enthused a contribution on ‘Recommendation on Responsible Innovation in Neurotechnology’ by Dr. David Winickoff, from the Working Party on Bio-, Nano- and Converging Technologies (BNCT), OECD.