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Background: Non-invasive brain stimulation methods such as transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) or transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) have received a great deal of attention in research and for the treatment of mental illnesses in recent years and are being used with increasing frequency. As a result, numerous safety rules have been established to ensure the safe use of these methods in research and clinical treatment. However, in this context there are ethical questions for researchers and practitioners that are difficult to answer; for example:

  • Where is the line between clinical treatment and performance enhancement?
  • How should vulnerable groups such as the elderly or children be treated?
  • Should brain stimulation be used for individuals who are unable to consent due to illness?
  • What might be the impact of research results outside of clinical research and treatment on the open market?

In addition, in the recent past more and more devices and instructions for the use of the underlying technology have been developed, which are intended to be used for non-clinical use cases such as cognitive performance enhancement and for which effectiveness is often not scientifically proven.

Aim: The project aims to develop a Code of Conduct for the use and research of non-invasive brain stimulation for the European Union in collaboration with experts from society, science, politics and industry. This code of conduct has the aim to enable researchers to reflect on their own research from an ethical point of view and to support legislative bodies in developing a long-term legal framework for the use and marketing of non-invasive brain stimulation devices.

Procedure: After a comprehensive literature review, the perspectives of laypeople will be collected in several workshops, which will then be discussed and further elaborated with experts from different relevant disciplines. On the basis of these participatory results, a Code of Conduct will thus be derived that can take the different perspectives into account.

Framework data:

The international project is funded by the European Commission within the framework of ERA-NET NEURON. The German part is funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF).

Project consortium:

  • Project Management: Center for Responsible Research and Innovation of Fraunhofer IAO
  • University of Ottawa, Brain and Mind Insititute
  • University Hospital Göttingen, Department of Neurology
  • Hospital Nacional de Parapléjicos, Functional Exploration and Neuromodulation of the CNS

Duration: 04/2021 - 10/2023