AANS Neurosurgeon | Volume 28, Number 3, 2019

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Bioethicists Call for Oversight of Direct-to-Consumer “Neurotechnologies” Promising Unproven Benefits

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Penn bioethicist proposes a working group to study and monitor poorly regulated products, predicted to top $3 billion by 2020

The marketing of direct-to-consumer “neurotechnologies” can be enticing: apps that diagnose a mental state, and brain devices that improve cognition or “read” one’s emotional state. However, many of these increasingly popular products aren’t fully supported by science and have little to no regulatory oversight, which poses potential health risks to the public. Two bioethicists from Penn Medicine and the University of British Columbia suggest the creation of a working group that would further study, monitor, and provide guidance for this growing industry – which is expected to top $3 billion by 2020.

“There’s a real thirst for knowledge about the efficacy of these products from the public, which remains unclear because of this lack of oversight and gap in knowledge,” said lead author Anna Wexler, PhD, an instructor in the department of Medical Ethics and Health Policy at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. “We believe a diverse, dedicated group would help back up or refute claims made by companies, determine what’s safe, better understand their use among consumers, and address possible ethical concerns.”

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