Factbox: Neurotechnologies in spotlight of UK ethics review

Thu Mar 1, 2012 9:02am EST
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LONDON (Reuters) - Britain's Nuffield Council on Bioethics, which examines ethical issues raised by new developments in biology and medicine, launched a consultation on Thursday on the ethics of new technologies and devices that intervene in the human brain.

The three main areas of the group's focus are brain-computer interfaces, neurostimulation and neural stem cell therapy.

Here are some details about each area of research and how it is being explored.

* Brain computer interfaces (BCIs)

BCIs measure and analyze a person's brain signals and convert them into an output such as movement.

A paralyzed person, for example, could use a BCI to operate a wheelchair, or someone who has extreme difficulty speaking could use a BCI to communicate via a computer voice.

These sorts of applications have been shown to be successful in a few reported cases, but the technology has not yet been developed for regular clinical use and there are questions over whether these technologies are reliable enough for use in everyday life.

Military applications, such as remote control of vehicles and machinery are not yet in wide use but are being researched and tested, mainly in the United States.

Some commercial BCI developments are already on the market in the gaming sector. Gamers can buy a wireless headset that aims to replace a joystick by controlling game play through brain signals.   Continued...