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Free Conference Oct. 24 to Explore Brain Imaging

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October 16, 2006 | by Megan Fellman

EVANSTON, Ill. --- Two brain science experts will discuss -- in plain English -- the scientific and social issues surrounding the use of brain-imaging technology at “Imaging the Brain, Reading the Mind,” Tuesday, Oct. 24, at Northwestern University.

The free public outreach program will take place from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Ryan Family Auditorium, Technological Institute, 2145 Sheridan Road, Evanston. Doors open at 6:30 p.m.

The speakers will describe how images of the brain are acquired and what kinds of information they can reliably provide. Recent advances in technology -- notably the MRI and fMRI -- are allowing medical scientists not only to detect anatomical brain abnormalities such as tumors and cysts but also to diagnose various functional losses in the brain caused by stroke, traumatic injury or neurological disease. It is even becoming possible to associate specific brain areas with certain behavior, emotions and psychological traits.

As promising as these developments are, they also raise thorny ethical questions: How far should we permit science to go in analyzing human thoughts, emotions and personalities? How could the findings be misused? Under what conditions does brain imaging become like mind reading -- and pose the ultimate threat to personal privacy?

The specific topics and speakers follow:

“Brave New World of Brain Imaging,” Marsel Mesulam, Ruth and Evelyn Dunbar Professor of Neurology and Psychiatry and director, Cognitive Neurology and Alzheimer's Disease Center, Feinberg School of Medicine, Northwestern University

“Scanning Brains and Reading Minds,” Martha Farah, professor of psychology; director, Center for Cognitive Neuroscience; adjunct professor of neurology; and senior fellow, Center for Bioethics, University of Pennsylvania

A panel discussion will follow the individual presentations.

“Imaging the Brain, Reading the Mind” is the sixth in a series of public outreach programs at Northwestern focusing on developments in the life sciences. The series aims to stimulate thinking about the impact of scientific research in the realms of ethics, law and public policy.

The conference is organized by Northwestern's department of neurobiology and physiology.

For additional information, call (847) 491-5521 or visit the conference Web site at <http://www.northwestern.edu/science-outreach>, which includes speaker bios and directions to the event.