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White House asks bioethics commission on which Prof. Anita Allen serves to assist in BRAIN initiative

As part of the $100 million brain-mapping initiative announced by President Obama on Tuesday, the White House has asked a commission on which Penn Law Professor Anita L. Allen serves to examine the ethical, legal, and societal implications raised by the research.

“This is the most significant federal science initiative since the Human Genome Project,” said Allen, whose expertise includes privacy law, data protection, ethics, bioethics, jurisprudence and torts.

Allen, the Henry R. Silverman Professor of Law and Professor of Philosophy, is a member of the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues, which is headed by University President Amy Gutmann.

 “We stand ready to assist the President and will engage in discussions with the White House to determine how we can be most helpful in examining the ethical considerations of this important area,” the Commission said in a statement.

The “Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies” (BRAIN) initiative was first proposed by President Obama in his State of the Union address.

On Tuesday he asked Congress to appropriate $100 million next year to start the project, which would map the brain’s activity in unprecedented detail, as a step toward finding better ways to treat such conditions as Alzheimer’s, autism, stroke, and traumatic brain injuries.

The initiative would require the development of new technology that can record the electrical activity of individual cells and complex neural in the brain “at the speed of thought,” the White House said.