Tuesday, March 14, 2023 5:30 PM – 7:00 PM PDT Bill Reid Gallery of Northwest Coast Art 639 Hornby Street, Vancouver, BC, V6C 2G3 (map)
Everyone is welcome! This public in-person event is free, but tickets are required. Kindly RSVP here:https://ncbaw2023.eventbrite.ca Overview Research on Indigenous communities has historically been conducted using a one-sided approach, with researchers having little knowledge of Indigenous culture, minimal concerns surrounding community needs or desires, and without giving back to the community. In this lecture intended for people from all backgrounds and professions, Dr. Melissa L. Perreault will discuss how this is the time to give Indigenous communities a voice in research on brain and mental health that is guided ethically and culturally.
Melissa L. Perreault, PhD Dr. Melissa L. Perreault, PhD, is an Associate Professor and neuroscientist in the Department of Biomedical Sciences at the University of Guelph and a member of the College of New Scholars, Artists, and Scientists in the Royal Society of Canada. Dr. Perreault’s research is focused on the understanding of sex differences in the mechanisms that underly neuropsychiatric disorders, and on the identification of brain wave patterns that can be used as biomarkers to identify brain and mental health disorders.
Dr. Perreault is a citizen of the Métis Nation of Ontario, descended from the historic Métis Community of the Mattawa/Ottawa River. She has developed numerous Indigenous and equity, diversity, and inclusion initiatives at institutional, national, and international levels. As a member of the Indigenous Knowledge Holders Group for the Canadian Brain Research Strategy, she continues to strive towards inclusivity in neuroscience and Indigenous community research.
Brain Awareness Week Brain Awareness Week is the global campaign to foster public enthusiasm and support for brain science. Every March, partners host imaginative activities in their communities that share the wonders of the brain and the impact brain science has on our everyday lives.
Can new technology bring hope to children who have drug-resistant epilepsy?
More than 500,000 children in Canada and the USA have epilepsy. About a third of those children continue to have seizures despite taking anti-seizure medications, also known as pediatric drug resistant epilepsy (DRE). Surgery may be one option for them, but what if there is another option that is less invasive or more effective? What if new technology can bring hope to children who have DRE?
EVENT TIMELINE 4:15PM Doors open 5:00PM Screening starts 5:45PM Panel and Audience Q&A 6:15PM Public event ends
MODERATOR: Judy Illes, CM, PhD, FRSC, FCAHS Professor and UBC Distinguished Scholar in Neuroethics Director, Neuroethics Canada University of British Columbia
PANELISTS: Patrick J. McDonald MD, MHSc, FRCSC Associate Professor and Head, Section of Neurosurgery Section Head, Neurosurgery, Shared Health Manitoba Department of Surgery University of Manitoba
Johann Roduit, PhD Science Communicator, Producer, and Founding Partner of Conexkt
Please note that seating is general admission and is first-come, first-served. Tickets obtained through registration at Eventbrite do not guarantee guests a seat at the theatre. Theatre is overbooked to ensure a full house.
ABOUT SEIZING HOPE Families with children suffering from pediatric drug resistant epilepsy (DRE) face complex realities. In a world guided by the promises of technology, the goal of Seizing Hope is to raise awareness about the options offered by different technologies specifically for the brain in complement or as an alternative to treatment with medication. As the directors and producers of this mini-documentary, we want to empower and improve decision-making by exploring values and priorities through the lens of the families and doctors who care for them. We compiled the stories of four families with children who have pediatric DRE to shed light on their hope, trust, and empowerment journey.
The views and research presented in this documentary represent a multi-year neuroethics project funded by the National Institute of Mental Health of the USA National Institutes of Health, BRAIN Initiative.
CREDITS Neuroethics Canada UBC, with funding from the NIH/NIMH BRAIN Initiative (#RF1MH117805-01) in association with Conexkt Innovation Studio And Cassiar Film CO. present Seizing Hope. Featuring the Bagg, Chartrand, Thompson, and Cowin families. Executive Producers Dr. Judy Illes and Dr. Patrick J. McDonald. Produced by Dr. Johann Roduit. Directed by Adam Wormald.
Join us for a conversation about supporting Indigenous peoples’ wellness and self-determination in the areas of genomics and brain wellness. Hear perspectives from Krystal Tsosie, co-founder of the first U.S. Indigenous-led biobank, and from members of a working group that convened this past fall to explore the meanings of brain wellness in an Indigenous health context. Our conversation will span topics including research and data sovereignty, intersections between genomic ethics and neuroethics, and uplifting community voices and perspectives. Come ready to learn and consider how our positionalities, lived experiences and cultures can impact the way we think and reason about ethics.
Panelists: Krystal Tsosie, MPH, MA Navajo Nation PhD candidate, Genomics and Health Disparities Vanderbilt University
Bryce Mercredi Métis Nation Elder
Cornelia (Nel) Wieman, MD, MSc, FRCPC Anishinaabe (Little Grand Rapids First Nation) Deputy Chief Medical Officer, First Nations Health Authority
Malcolm King, PhD, FCAHS Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation Professor, Community Health and Epidemiology College of Medicine, University of Saskatchewan
Sekani Dakelth Nak’azdli Nation Community member and activist
Moderated by: Louise Harding, BSc MSc Student, School of Population and Public Health Neuroethics Canada, University of British Columbia
We are grateful to the UBC W. Maurice Young Centre for Applied Ethics for providing funding for this event.
Come join us for an interactive conversation with experts to discuss the latest in different approaches to spinal cord repair!
PANELISTS: Andrea Townson, MD, FRCPC Medical Co-Chair, Regional Rehab Program, VCHA Clinical Professor Department of Medicine, University of British Columbia
John Madden, PhD, PEng Director, Advanced Materials and Process Engineering Laboratory Professor Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering, University of British Columbia
Karim Fouad, PhD Co-Director and Editor, Open Data Commons-SCI Professor and Canada Research Chair for Spinal Cord Injury Department of Physical Therapy and Neuroscience and Mental Health Institute, University of Alberta
MODERATED BY: Judy Illes, CM, PhD Director, Neuroethics Canada Professor and Distinguished University Scholar, UBC Distinguished Professor in Neuroethics Department of Medicine, University of British Columbia
Overview Rapid technological advancements have led to the potential for significant improvements in brain health, expanding both the range of conditions treated and number of patients who can be helped. While these advancements hold great promise, they also come with considerable cost and a risk that they are not offered to all who may benefit from them, especially those in vulnerable populations. Advances in treating children with epilepsy and adults with movement disorders make equitable access to all ever more critical.
Patrick McDonald MD, MHSc, FRCSC Dr. Patrick McDonald is a pediatric neurosurgeon at Winnipeg Children’s Hospital, Head of the Section of Neurosurgery at the University of Manitoba and a Faculty Member at Neuroethics Canada in Vancouver, BC. He is Chair of the Ethics Committee of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada and Past President of the Canadian Neurosurgical Society. For twenty years he has combined a practice caring for children with neurologic illness with an interest in the ethical issues that surround that care. Collaborating with Professor Judy Illes, Director of Neuroethics Canada, he studies the neuroethical issues inherent in the adoption of novel neurotechnologies to treat brain illness.
Brain Awareness Week Brain Awareness Week is the global campaign to foster public enthusiasm and support for brain science. Every March, partners host imaginative activities in their communities that share the wonders of the brain and the impact brain science has on our everyday lives.
One in three women will experience intimate partner violence (IPV) in their lifetime. Up to 92% of these women will also suffer a brain injury (BI) at the hands of a partner (1,2). To put this in a Canadian perspective, for every 1 NHL player that suffers a concussion, 5,500 Canadian women suffer the same injury due to IPV. It is with these statistics in mind that research teams such as the SOAR project (Supporting Survivors of Abuse and Brain Injury through Research) have been assembled to better understand, characterize, and manage the urgent crisis that is intimate partner violence-related brain injury (IPV-BI).
A major pillar of scientific and clinical interest in IPV-BI research is designing and implementing BI screening tools specific to IPV. Although research teams approach this topic with the intent of better understanding IPV-BI, improving BI diagnostic science, and designing intervention strategies tailored to IPV-BI, careful consideration must be taken to ensure that providing BI screening information will not harm patients in other areas of their lives. To justify any health screening, two criterion must be met: 1) the presence of sufficient risk of a positive result (in other words, the likelihood of a positive result must be deemed significant); and 2) the availability of an evidence-based validated treatment or intervention in the event of a positive result (3–5). Despite these concerns, when limiting perspective to a healthcare silo, the benefits of screening for IPV-BI seem to outweigh the concerns. However, the impacts of screening for IPV-BI outside of the healthcare context must also be considered. Through applying an intersectional lens, which considers the intersection of social categories such as race, gender, class, and other characteristics of marginalization, we recognize the wide-ranging experiences of survivors of IPV and acknowledge we have a responsibility to ensure BI information in other contexts does no harm. Specific to women who have experienced IPV-BI, the legal implications of BI screening information are of particular concern.
My master’s thesis examined the ethico-legal considerations of screening for BI in women who have experienced IPV. The concerns surrounding screening for IPV-BI arise from a history of mental health information, such as depression, anxiety, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) being weaponized against women in family law proceedings. Not only does this imply BI will be similarly weaponized, but that disorders often diagnosed alongside BI – depression, anxiety, and PTSD – will almost certainly be used in an attempt to prove a woman is unfit to parent. To examine this issue, lawyers were interviewed to elicit their knowledge of IPV, BI, and IPV-BI, as well as the role each may play in Canadian family courts.
Lawyers provided significant insight into how IPV-BI may impact the outcome of parenting disputes in Canadian family law. The major findings can be separated into three themes: (1) education; (2) capacity; (3) causation.
It was clear through the interviews that there is a limited understanding of both IPV and IPV-BI by the legal profession. Despite all participants reporting they have had cases which involved IPV, most reported no formal education on IPV and its complexities or how it should factor into parenting disputes. It is therefore unsurprising that IPV is often dismissed within family law as irrelevant, and foreshadows lawyers being similarly ill-equipped to support clients who have sustained IPV-BI.
Capacity, here, refers to either a woman’s ability to give and receive legal instructions because of any deficits caused by the BI, or more importantly, the woman’s capacity to parent. Every participant stated that they would expect the opposing lawyer to use IPV-BI as a means to challenge a woman’s ability to parent. Interestingly, participants also said they would do the exact same thing if they were representing the alleged abuser, despite acknowledging how absurd that may sound. This mirrors the historical instances in family law where stigmatized health disorders such as depression were used to minimize a woman’s parenting capacity.
Lastly, lawyers emphasized that it would be difficult to prove that IPV caused the BI if there was no physical evidence. Unfortunately, this is often difficult for women and lawyers to provide in situations involving IPV. In the absence of physical evidence showing IPV or IPV-BI, this becomes a situation of hearsay. In these cases, women are either not believed, their experiences of violence are minimized, or the courts acknowledge that the IPV exists but dismiss it as marital conflict and deem it irrelevant to the parenting dispute. Courts may also rely on a physician’s testimony to discuss the implications of BI on tasks relevant to parenting (such as memory). However, not all physicians are well informed on the complexities of IPV-BI. It is therefore difficult for women and their lawyers to find suitable experts who can speak to both IPV and BI appropriately without causing undue harm to women through the testimony of BI and its effects.
Should we continue to screen?
Ultimately, these themes show that IPV-BI does leave women legally vulnerable due to a lack of legal precedent (it has never been seen before), inadequate education surrounding IPV and IPV-BI for legal professionals, and the difficulty in proving causation. It is important to emphasize that the BI is not the problem. Rather, it is inserting it into a legal system that is ill-equipped to appropriately address IPV-BI and which continues to suffer from the influences of sexism and racism. Although I have highlighted issues with screening for IPV-BI, I am not advocating for the cessation of this important practice; however, screening should implement the following recommendations to ensure equitable and ethical care:
Expert allyship: Organizations such as SOAR should have physicians in their team who are well versed in IPV-BI and eager to advocate for women in court.
Trauma-informed legal team: Connecting women to trauma-informed legal professionals ensures women feel supported and both women and their counsel are well-prepared to address IPV and IPV-BI in parenting disputes.
Assessment of parenting capacity: Incorporate an assessment of the patient’s capacity to parent into the screening tool. This may help counteract any allegations immediately, avoiding additional assessments and mitigating the impact these claims may have on the outcome.
Transparent informed consent: It is important that patients know that this information will likely be submitted in a parenting dispute by their spouse’s counsel. Informed consent will ensure patients can adequately prepare with their legal team.
Without implementation of these recommendations, IPV-BI has the potential to become another avenue for the perpetuation of violence post-separation – a common occurrence in outcomes of parenting disputes in Canada. These recommendations call for scientists and clinicians alike to broaden their conception of ethics and contextualize their research within the reality of their participants’ and patients’ lives.
Although current statistics show heterosexual women experience the most severe physical IPV conducive to causing BI, it is important to note that IPV in all of its forms (physical, psychological, sexual, financial, coercive control) and IPV-BI is not exclusive to heterosexual relationships or to people identifying as women. Future research surrounding IPV-BI, IPV-BI screening, and their intersection with law should be expanded to explore the phenomenon with other relationships and identities along the sexuality and gender spectrums.
World Health Organization, Department of Reproductive Health and Research, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, South African Medical Research Council. Global and regional estimates of violence against women. WHO. World Health Organization; 2014.
Valera EM, Berenbaum H. Brain injury in battered women. J Consult Clin Psychol. 2003;71(4):797–804.
Arora N, Hjalmarsson C, Lang E, Boyle A, Atkinson P. We should routinely screen for domestic violence (intimate partner violence) in the emergency department. Can J Emerg Med. 2019;21(6):701–5.
Infographic resources for pediatric Drug Resistant Epilepsy
Ask yourself, “would pamphlets or posters be a good means of sharing information for blinded patients?”. Hopefully your response falls somewhere along the spectrum of, “of course not” to “that’s not ideal”. And you’d be right; when creating a resource for a particular group, it’s essential that their needs be considered to ensure the information is shared in a meaningful and functional way. This is true in all domains, be it websites, videos, or printed resources. If the resource is inaccessible to the group you wish to share your research with, then its usefulness is limited to academic discussion and it will not be effective in the real world.
Despite efforts to elucidate guidelines on how to best engage with the public, research shows that many patient education resources aren’t very palatable to the average person. Issues with technical jargon, lack of visual aids, and incomplete information all contribute to the inaccessibility of an educational resource. These issues can be compounded when sharing findings on complex topics such as neurotechnological treatments for pediatric drug resistant epilepsy (DRE). Ultimately, when creating resources from one’s research, the main concern should be that it is readable, understandable, and useful to those who look to access those resources (1).
The reading age for a text is measured by its readability, which is a proxy score on how easily it can be read and processed by the reader. Readability commonly assesses the use of familiar words, density of syllables, and length of sentences to determine its score. The American Medical Association (AMA) suggests that all patient resources be written at or below 7th grade reading level, the average American reading level (2). However, studies on resources curated for ophthalmology, lung cancer, and dementia found that nearly all patient education materials produced exceeded these AMA recommendations, leading to materials that were beyond the general populations ability to interpret (3,4,5). In areas where patient’s may be suffering from cognitive deficits, such as epilepsy, clarity in written resources is paramount. Yet patient education websites for epilepsy surgery show no greater care for readability than other fields, with the majority written at an excessively difficult reading level (6). This pattern of low readability suggests that presently available patient resources are not accessible to the common patient, and may be contributing to lower levels of health literacy.
While readability is an excellent way to assess whether your audience can read your resource, it doesn’t quite capture whether they can comprehend the information it is sharing. The Patient Education Materials Assessment Tool (PEMAT) developed by the Agency for Healthcare Research Quality measures understandability in terms of content, word choice and style, use of numbers, organization, layout and design, and use of visual aids (7). These metrics are useful for determining how well patients can process a resource’s information and identify the key messages. Applying these measures to current resources reveals how short of the mark they fall in communicating information to patients. In a review of diabetes education materials, only 16% met criteria for understandability (8). Neurosurgery resources were similarly rated with a notable lack of summaries, main messaging, and visual aids (9). This finding is corroborated by another study on epilepsy decision-making, which notes more than half of reviewed patient education materials lacked visual aids entirely (6). Taken together, it’s clear that much improvement is needed to promote clearer communication of research findings to patients.
The final piece of the patient resource puzzle is ensuring the information a resource is sharing is useful to the reader.Meaning, can they apply they information they learned to benefit their healthcare journey? The idea of usefulness aligns well with the PEMAT measure of actionability: “consumers of diverse backgrounds and varying levels of health literacy can identify what they can do based on the information presented” (7). In practice, patient education resources fall short once again, with only 1 diabetes resource meeting criteria for actionability, and the majority of neurosurgery resources failing to identify next steps or tools to help patients take action (8,9). Usefulness is also limited by inclusion of all relevant information, and in cases where decision-making is needed it is important for patients to be aware of all relevant risks and benefits to make informed healthcare decisions. Yet, nearly half of reviewed resources for epilepsy surgery neglected to touch on risks and benefits, with some providing biased information in one way or the other (e.g. discussing risks or benefits but not both) (6). It is startling to see that the vast majority of carefully crafted patient resources are not proving to be useful to the patients they serve.
A Neuroethical approach to Patient Education Resources
So, how do we make patient resources that are more engaging for patients? An excellent case study in this area are the infographic resources curated alongside research on decision-making for pediatric drug resistant epilepsy.
The large NIH funded project “Informing Choice for Neurotechnological Innovation in Pediatric Epilepsy Surgery” has several arms of research consisting of clinical trials,media analysis, youth interviews, family interviews, caregiver interviews, and genetic testing interviews (10-15). Though the methods for each arm of research varied, the methodology for creating patient-centered infographics stayed consistent.
In neuroethics, the patient’s rights, privacy, and voice are held in high esteem, and the NIH in particular has stated that engagement with the public in research is key. Bidirectional dialogue is encouraged to ensure that patients can engage with the research, and researchers can stay abreast of public desires, concerns, and health literacy (16). This bidirectional dialogue was employed in the development of the infographics, seeking patient and caregiver input at various stages throughout the process to guarantee the patient voice was incorporated and to ensure the resulting infographics were readable, understandable, and useful.
Infographic development process
A value-guided iterative approach was used for the development of all the infographics. The key findings of the research were extracted and summarized, informative headers and take-home messages were drafted. A word document was created with the information in plain text within a table, to resemble the proposed infographic layout, and was then reviewed by caregivers and research collaborators to ensure accuracy and understandability. Once through this initial process, the infographic was prepared, refined by the researchers, and sent to caregivers for review via a short 15-minute survey. The survey gathered information about clarity of main points, conciseness, engagement, visual appeal, and usefulness.
The survey also gauged respondent’s prior knowledge, willingness to share the infographic, and preferred format to engage with the resource. With feedback in hand, the final version of the infographic was designed and uploaded to the study’s page with a QR code included in the design to allow for further feedback and refinement in the future.
On the sample infographic included to the side you can see the clear title, summary, research design, and action item (highlighted in red).
Readability was ensured through simple language use informed by PEMAT measures and feedback from caregivers. Understandability was ameliorated through the use of clear design, layout, and imagery. Nesting topics underneath key themes to retain a sense of cohesion. Both risks and benefits were addressed to better inform the reader of all relevant information and the take home messages summarize the useful pieces of information the reader can take away to apply in their healthcare journey.
Now that we have a framework for how to create and improve patient education materials, future researchers will be able to follow in our footsteps and create patient resources that are accessible. Such accessibility in the form of readability, understandability, and usefulness are highly important, as many North Americans do not possess high levels of health literacy (17,18). Health literacy comprises all the necessary skills to access, process, and comprehend health information in order to make informed healthcare decisions (19). Researchers have amassed a wealth of data on health, healthcare, and treatment options that have the potential to greatly impact the lives of many suffering with health conditions. In order to unlock that potential, patient voices need to be acknowledged and incorporated when creating resources. In this way we can bridge a crucial gap between bench and bedside, creating a more equitable and accessible healthcare system for all.
All 6 infographics summarizing the research of the NIH study on decision-making in paediatric DRE can be viewed and downloaded in English, Spanish or French here.
Ashley Lawson, BScH, is the Knowledge Translation and Communications Specialist for Neuroethics Canada as well as the Canadian Brain Research Strategy. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Psychology with a minor in Biology from Queen’s University.
Beaunoyer E, Arsenault M, Lomanowska AM, Guitton MJ. Understanding online health information: Evaluation, tools, and strategies. Patient education and counseling. 2017 Feb 1;100(2):183-9.
Weiss BD. Health literacy and patient safety: Help patients understand. Manual for clinicians. American Medical Association Foundation; 2007.
Patel PA, Gopali R, Reddy A, Patel KK. The Readability of Ophthalmological Patient Education Materials Provided by Major Academic Hospitals. InSeminars in Ophthalmology 2021 Apr 15 (pp. 1-6). Taylor & Francis.
Hansberry DR, White MD, D’Angelo M, Prabhu AV, Kamel S, Lakhani P, Sundaram B. Lung cancer screening guidelines: how readable are internet-based patient education resources?. American Journal of Roentgenology. 2018 Jul;211(1):W42-6.
O’Callaghan C, Rogan P, Brigo F, Rahilly J, Kinney M. Readability of online sources of information regarding epilepsy surgery and its impact on decision-making processes. Epilepsy & Behavior. 2021 Aug 1;121:108033.
J.M. Robillard, A.B. Sporn (2018). Static versus interactive online resources about dementia: A comparison of readability scores. Gerontechnology, 17(1), 29-37.
Shoemaker SJ, Wolf MS, Brach C. Development of the Patient Education Materials Assessment Tool (PEMAT): a new measure of understandability and actionability for print and audiovisual patient information. Patient education and counseling. 2014 Sep 1;96(3):395-403.
Lipari M, Berlie H, Saleh Y, Hang P, Moser L. Understandability, actionability, and readability of online patient education materials about diabetes mellitus. American Journal of Health-System Pharmacy. 2019 Feb 1;76(3):182-6.
Ramos CL, Williams JE, Bababekov YJ, Chang DC, Carter BS, Jones PS. Assessing the understandability and actionability of online neurosurgical patient education materials. World neurosurgery. 2019 Oct 1;130:e588-97.
Kaal KJ, Aguiar M, Harrison M, McDonald PJ, Illes J. The clinical research landscape of pediatric drug-resistant epilepsy. Journal of child neurology. 2020 Oct;35(11):763-6.
Munjal V, Arakelyan M, McDonald PJ, Illes J. Epilepsy through the eyes of the media: A paradox of positive reporting and challenges of access to advanced neurotechnology. Epilepsy & Behavior. 2020 Oct 1;111:107200.
Udwadia FR, McDonald PJ, Connolly MB, Hrincu V, Illes J. Youth weigh in: views on advanced neurotechnology for drug-resistant epilepsy. Journal of child neurology. 2021 Feb;36(2):128-32.
McDonald PJ, Hrincu V, Connolly MB, Harrison MJ, Ibrahim GM, Naftel RP, Chiong W, Udwadia F, Illes J. Novel neurotechnological interventions for pediatric drug-resistant epilepsy: physician perspectives. Journal of child neurology. 2021 Mar;36(3):222-9
Hrincu V, McDonald PJ, Connolly MB, Harrison MJ, Ibrahim GM, Naftel RP, Chiong W, Alam A, Ribary U, Illes J. Choice and Trade-offs: Parent Decision Making for Neurotechnologies for Pediatric Drug-Resistant Epilepsy. Journal of Child Neurology. 2021 Jun 2:08830738211015010.
Alam, A. Parfvonov, M., Hrincu, V., Lawson, A., Huang, M., Gill, I., Connolly, M., & Illes, J. Genetic testing impacts on decision-making in pediatric drug resistant epilepsy. 2021 (in preparation).
Greely HT, Grady C, Ramos KM, Chiong W, Eberwine J, Farahany NA, Johnson LS, Hyman BT, Hyman SE, Rommelfanger KS, Serrano EE. Neuroethics guiding principles for the NIH BRAIN initiative. Journal of Neuroscience. 2018 Dec 12;38(50):10586-8.
This blog post discusses some of the key findings from a poster presentation for the 2021 annual meeting of the American Academy of Neurology (abstract here) and published in the Journal of Child Neurology (2021, paper here).
Neurotechnologies that can change certain functions of the brain may help children with a type of epilepsy that responds poorly to anti-seizure medication (drug-resistant epilepsy). However, there are important differences in the way that parents and doctors make treatment decisions about them.
For parents and caregivers of children with drug-resistant epilepsy (1), treatment choice goes beyond just the direct effect of the treatment on the child’s seizures. They also consider their child in context of the world and their overall quality of life (2). For doctors, treatment choice focuses on the evidence of effectiveness and the seizures themselves (3,4). Understanding both the shared and different decision-making priorities for these groups requires deeper insight into the values that drive them.
The promise and uncertainty of neurotechnologies
Neurotechnologies use innovative techniques to alter brain activity in two main ways: electrical stimulation (i.e., neuromodulation) or the removal of diseased tissue. Modern examples include responsive neurostimulation and laser interstitial thermal therapy. These treatments are gaining in popularity because of their perceived benefits, such as reversibility and limited invasiveness.
Given the special developmental needs of children, we wanted to better understand the trade-offs of benefit and risk. We talked to parents and doctors caring for children with drug-resistant epilepsy across Canada and the USA. We asked them to identify the most important factors they consider when weighing novel neurotechnologies against traditional neurosurgery.
For parents, quality of life is key
When asked about new forms of neurotechnology to treat their child’s epilepsy, parents highlight the benefits including – but also beyond – seizures. Specifically, parents identify quality of life as a crucial factor. This includes life factors such as independence and freedom from the side effects of medication.
“Can they [our child] hold down a job? Can they have a house? Can they get married and have a life? To me, that was important,” said one parent.
Doctors mainly discuss seizure freedom as a measure of success. As one doctor stated, it’s important to consider multiple factors, including quality of life, but that “the big [measure] is seizure control, decreased seizure frequency, and then seizure freedom.”
Not all information is equal
For doctors, scientific evidence is the main factor in considering a new procedure, and to prioritize safety and trust. Introducing novel treatments is therefore challenging (5), because they lack clear evidence while they are being studied, especially in children.
Parents struggle to meet all kinds of information needs. They describe spending hours learning online from a range of sources–from academic articles to blog posts. The credibility and readability of these online resources varies greatly, and they report that reliable sources of information are sometimes difficult to identify.
One parent commented, “[Once the information is] on the internet …we have to decipher whether it’s real.”
Many parents suggest that it would be helpful to receive objective materials directly from hospitals or epilepsy centers.
Preserving trust for novel treatment decisions
Novel treatments disrupt conventional decision-making paradigms. Understanding the different ways medical professionals and parents approach treatment decisions can ease the experience of choosing treatment.
Parents maintain a high degree of trust in their doctors and medical team. Incorporating the different perspectives of families, young patients, and physicians preserves trust and supports inclusive clinical practice.
See the poster above for an overview of the results.
For an overview of neurotechnologies in pediatric epilepsy, see this blog post. For the views of youth on neurotechnology, see Udwadia et al.’s paper.
Acknowledgements to the leaders of this work Dr. Judy Illes (PI) and Dr. Patrick McDonald (Co-PI). I thank our collaborators Dr. Mary B. Connolly, Dr. Mark Harrison, Dr. George M. Ibrahim, Dr. Robert Naftel, and Dr. Winston Chiong, Dr. Urs Ribary and other members of the Neuroethics Canada team. This work is supported by: the National Institutes of Health grant (JI) 1RF1 # MH117805, Canada Research Chairs Program (JI), and the UBC Alcan Chair in Neurosciences (PJM).
Kwan P, Arzimanoglou A, Berg AT, Brodie MJ, Hauser WA, Mathern G, et al. Definition of drug resistant epilepsy: Consensus proposal by the ad hoc Task Force of the ILAE Commission on Therapeutic Strategies. Epilepsia. 2010;51(6):1069–77.
Hrincu V, McDonald PJ, Connolly MB, Harrison MJ, Ibrahim GM, Naftel RP, et al. Choice and Trade-offs: Parent Decision Making for Neurotechnologies for Pediatric Drug-Resistant Epilepsy. J Child Neurol. 2021 Jun 2;08830738211015010.
McDonald PJ, Hrincu V, Connolly MB, Harrison MJ, Ibrahim GM, Naftel RP, et al. Novel Neurotechnological Interventions for Pediatric Drug-Resistant Epilepsy: Physician Perspectives. J Child Neurol. 2020 Oct 28;0883073820966935.
Kaal KJ, Aguiar M, Harrison M, McDonald PJ, Illes J. The Clinical Research Landscape of Pediatric Drug-Resistant Epilepsy. J Child Neurol. 2020 Jun 16;0883073820931255.
Iserson KV, Chiasson PM. The Ethics of Applying New Medical Technologies. Semin Laparosc Surg. 2002 Dec 1;9(4):222–9.
Viorica Hrincu, MSc is doing her PhD in Experimental Medicine at the University of British Columbia in the Neuroscience Engagement and Smart Tech (NEST) lab.
Electroencephalographic (EEG) monitoring provides critical diagnostic and management information about patients with epilepsy and seizure mimics. Admission to an epilepsy monitoring unit (EMU) is the gold standard for such monitoring in major medical facilities worldwide. In many countries, however, access is challenged by limited resources compared to need. Triaging EMU admission in these circumstances is generally approached by unwritten protocols that vary by institution. In the absence of explicit guidance, decisions can be ethically taxing and are easy to dispute.
Drawing upon the limited triage literature from neurology and then moreso from various areas of medicine more broadly, my mentors and I developed an ethically-grounded two-component approach to EMU triage (Randhawa et al., under revision, 2021). The strategic component identifies three targets to guide improvements in EMU wait list infrastructure at the institutional level: (1) accountability to patients and public to foster transparency, (2) engagement of clinicians and administrators to achieve process improvements, and (3) empowerment of waitlist managers to promote active waitlist management strategies (see Figure).
The principled component applies an essential balance of three key moral philosophies to triage at the patient level. First, prioritarianism promotes the needs of the most ill, defined by seizure frequency and severity; however, it may also include subjective measures such as suffering. Second, utilitarianism maximizes the overall utility of resources, promoting the greatest benefits for the most people. If patients are having frequent seizures, they are more likely to benefit from EMU evaluation (utility) and are considered sicker (priority); therefore, these first two ethics principles work together. The principle of justice promotes equality by considering other relevant contextual factors such as patient’s ability to self-advocate and length of wait. This principle provides further refinement to the triage process. For example, patients who are disabled by frequent seizures may be unable to advocate for themselves to obtain a sooner admission despite the high utility and priority. As such, justice provides further impetus for accelerated admission.
These principles will be weighted differently depending on several contextual factors, such as the availability of adequate resources: high-resource settings favor prioritarianism; low-resource settings favor utilitarianism. Other factors affecting the use of these principles include patient and public values, clinician preferences, and objective metrics available to guide these decisions.
The approach we propose can inform site-specific process improvements and further revisions based on data generated at individual institutions. While much work remains to be done to explore and test implementation of the model, it provides a starting point in transforming implicit thinking about ethically-fraught circumstances related to EMUs into explicitly principled ones.
Acknowledgements to my research mentors Drs. Chantelle Hrazdil, Patrick McDonald, and Judy Illes for their substantial contributions. This work was supported in part by the UBC Faculty of Medicine, Vancouver Coastal Health Research Institute, and NIH/NIMH #RF1#MH117805 01.
Jason Randhawa, MD, is a Neurology Resident Research Assistant at Neuroethics Canada. He is a senior neurology resident based out of Vancouver General Hospital and St. Paul’s Hospital at the University of British Columbia.
Dr. Nir Lipsman (Assistant Professor, Division of Neurosurgery, Department of Surgery, University of Toronto) presented “Hacking the mind: How technology is changing the way we view our brain and ourselves” at the 2021 Brain Awareness Week – Annual Distinguished Neuroethics Lecture, held on March 16, 2021.
Overview: As it advances, our relationship with brain technology will change. In this lecture, Dr. Nir Lipsman will discuss how our knowledge of brain circuitry, and how it can go wrong, has informed our understanding of human behaviour. We will then discuss the implications of more sophisticated, precise and less intrusive brain technology, on that relationship, and what it could all mean for the next generation of brain therapy and beyond…
Bio: Nir Lipsman MD, PhD, FRCSC, is a neurosurgeon and scientist at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre and an Assistant Professor of Surgery at the University of Toronto. He completed his undergraduate degree at the University of Toronto followed by a medical degree at Queen’s University, and a neurosurgical residency at the University of Toronto. During his residency, Dr. Lipsman completed his PhD investigating novel neuromodulation strategies in patients with treatment-resistant psychiatric and neurologic conditions. He is currently the Director of Sunnybrook’s Harquail Center for Neuromodulation, and the Clinical Director of Sunnybrook’s Focused Ultrasound Centre of Excellence.
Dr. Lipsman has helped develop several clinical trials of MR-guided focused ultrasound (FUS) in novel indications, including among the world’s first experience of FUS in essential tremor, obsessive-compulsive disorder, major depression and chronic pain, as well as the first randomized control trial of FUS in tremor. He has led the world’s first application of FUS-mediated blood brain barrier (BBB) opening in Alzheimer’s Disease, and helped develop the first applications in primary and secondary brain tumors and ALS. He has published over 100 peer-reviewed papers and book chapters, including in The Lancet, Lancet Neurology, Lancet Psychiatry, New England Journal of Medicine, and Neuron.
Dr. Lipsman also has a strong interest in the broader clinical and ethical implications of neuromodulation, and has been closely involved in the development of international guidelines for the use of surgery in psychiatric disease. In collaboration with Drs. Judy Illes and Pat McDonald at UBC, he helped found the Pan Canadian Neurotechnology Ethics Consortium (PCNEC), bringing together experts in neuromodulation and ethics, to identify and tackle the most pressing ethical questions in the field.