Pharmacological and Neurosurgical Psychiatric Interventions: Through the Looking Glass

Laura Cabrera photoCenter Assistant Professor Dr. Laura Cabrera is the Team Leader on the project “Psychiatric Interventions: Values and Public Attitudes,” funded by the Michigan State University group Science and Society at State (S3). Dr. Cabrera’s team members are Dr. Robyn Bluhm of the Philosophy Department and Lyman Briggs College, and Dr. Mark Reimers of the Neuroscience Program and the College of Human Medicine.

home_1On October 28, 2016, Dr. Cabrera and team held the workshop “Pharmacological and Neurosurgical Psychiatric Interventions: Through the Looking Glass” as part of their S3 project. Participants included faculty, health professionals, researchers, and students from multiple institutions across the state.

The aim of the workshop was to bring together an interdisciplinary group of individuals with common interests, specifically in social and ethical issues within psychiatry. The workshop was useful as a way to obtain feedback regarding the pilot data that the team has been gathering and analyzing. Moreover, the workshop served as an opportunity to foster further collaborations and explore other grant proposal venues, as well as explore issues that need to be addressed regarding somatic psychiatric interventions.

The first session in the morning opened with two keynote presentations. First, Dr. Jed Magen, Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of Psychiatry, presented a talk entitled “Why We Don’t Know Much.” Dr. Magen addressed key issues related to pharmacological interventions in psychiatry, such as what the limits are of disease entities, the role of the pharmaceutical industry, and the importance of not only considering somatic psychiatric interventions, but also considering psychosocial approaches. The second presentation was by neurosurgeon Hayden M.K. Boyce of Spectrum Health, who spoke on “Ethical Considerations for DBS in Psychiatric Disorders.” Dr. Boyce’s presentation touched on five main issues: the complexity in deciding which areas to target, ethical treatment in trial, clinical trial design, issues connected to personality changes as well as issues around agency, and resource allocation.

During the question and answer session the discussion revolved around topics such as whether deep brain stimulation was particularly problematic in ways that pharmacological interventions where not, changes to self, and issues of uncertainty.

The second session presented the first part of the results of the project “Psychiatric Interventions: Values and Public Attitudes.” Dr. Bluhm talked about the aims, methods and results of the academic literature analysis. Session three covered the second part of the project results, in which Dr. Cabrera presented the aims, methods and results of the online public comment analysis. The final session transitioned to a large group discussion, in which the participants debated various relevant issues connected to somatic psychiatric interventions, such as the role of values and risk, the meaning of treatment refractory, and validation of the disorder. This last session also served as a space to discuss conceptual and practical issues related to how to move forward with the project.

To learn more about Science and Society at State and their funded projects, visit

NIH research grant awarded for project led by Tom Tomlinson and Raymond De Vries

tomlinsonTom Tomlinson, PhD, recently received a research grant from the National Human Genome Research Institute, NIH. Titled “Public Preferences for Addressing Donors’ Moral Concerns about Biobank Research,” the project is being led by Tomlinson and co-PI Raymond De Vries, PhD, of the University of Michigan.

To date, the dominant research ethics framework has focused on protecting research participants against the risks to their welfare that might be created by their participation in health research. This 3-year project is concerned with a different kind of “risk”—the risk that donated, de-identified biospecimens and health information might be used in research that is contrary to the donors’ moral, social or religious beliefs or values. How much do such concerns matter to people’s decisions whether to contribute specimens to research biobanks using a “blanket consent,” that gives one-time permission to use the contribution in any way the biobank deems acceptable? How should information about biobank-supported research projects be provided to potential donors? These and other questions will be answered using a nationally representative survey, coupled with a series of democratic deliberations that ask members of the public to develop recommendations for biobank policies regarding these issues. For more information, click here.

This project continues a line of research that Dr. Tomlinson began in 2010.