Research Visit Grant Winners

2021

Dr. Barbara Morsello

Biomedical Science Department, University of Padova, Italy

Visit: Laboratory for Science and Technology Studies-STSLab, Institute of Social Sciences, University of Lausanne, Switzerland

May 2022

The Horizon 2020 project entitled SYNCH (A SYnaptically connected brain-silicon Neural Closed-loop Hybrid system) in which I am involved in is concentrated on the development of a hybrid system based on the Deep Brain Stimulation Technology and Closed Loop System (AI) as a potential treatment for the Parkinson’s disease and many other.

As a social scientist I am in charge of the evaluation of social and ethical aspect related to brain technology and AI systems. I am doing so by deeper understanding and comparing stakeholders’ -physicians’, neurosurgeons’, neurologists’, entrepreneurs’, computer scientists’, ethicists’, patients’ – expectations and “imagined futures” related to this emerging technology.

Switzerland has a long tradition of brain studies, from the Brain Human project to the study of neuroprosthetics or brain-computer interfaces applied to biomedicine. During my research stay at University of Lausanne at the Institute of Social Science, I had the opportunity to meet several stakeholders currently involved in the Swiss brain studies landscape and exchange knowledge with the members of STS Lab about the relationship between neuroscience and social science in the study of brain technology.

Among the persons I met with were Jocelyin Bloch, a neuroscientist and neurosurgeon at the University Hospital of Lausanne and at EPFL with whom I was able to learn more about the potential of the closed-loop. I also had a privilege to meet Yanik Mehmet Fatih, professor of Neurotechnology at the Institute of Neuroinformatics at ETH Zürich, who showed me his latest studies with a special focus on the need to find increasingly less invasive approaches to treating diseases related to neuronal dysfunctionality. Besides, with Markus Christen, managing director of the Digital Society Initiative at the University of Zurich (UZH) and head of the “DSI Digital Ethics Lab,” and with Ralf Jox, a physician and neurologist at the Institut des Humanités en Médecine, we addressed social and ethical aspects related to the possible scenarios in which the human and technologies are mutually involved, making the boundaries increasingly blurred.

Changing bodies, enhancing neural functionalities, are some features of the fusion between human and nonhuman, that often fuel imaginaries related to biomedical innovation even among professionals themselves, reflecting in patients’ narratives and their fears. Comparing the Swiss and Italian perspectives and trying to understand the cultural reasons that convey representations of innovation in the biomedical field was very helpful in advancing my project.

Dr. Barbara Morsello