Science Policy For All

Because science policy affects everyone.

Science Policy Around the Web – December 1, 2015

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By: David Pagliaccio, Ph.D.

Photo source: CC0 Public Domain.

Mobile Technology and Mental Health

These start-ups use social media for mental health

The last several years have seen an influx of new smartphone apps aiming to improve mental health. These may entail anything from mood logging/tracking to guided meditations to phone-based cognitive therapy. It has been suggested that a move towards mobile technologies may make mental health interventions more accessible, relatable, and de-stigmatized. Yet, research on social media has been somewhat conflicted, with some studies suggesting that increased connectedness through social media use reduces stress or increases self esteem, with other work suggesting that extended social media use may lead to lower self esteem as individuals compare themselves to others.

Recently, other concerns and policy issues have been raised as well. In particular, these apps do not face the same regulatory standards as other mental health treatments nor do they require development through peer-reviewed scientific studies. Instead, they may be shaped through in-house testing, which endures much less rigorous review and may be subject to serious conflicts of interest. Currently, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not regulation these types of apps. As per recent guidelines, the “FDA intends to exercise enforcement discretion for these mobile apps because they pose lower risk to the public.” While these types of apps may fall under definitions of medical devices, the FDA guidelines explicitly list apps aiming to help patients with psychiatric conditions among those which it will not be regulating at this time. Official regulations will likely need to adapt to the increasing availability of mental health apps, particularly as these mobile health technologies gain increasing prominence in private and governmental initiatives. Notably, Dr. Tom Insel, the director of the National Institute of Mental Health, recently stepped down to pursue work with Google aiming to integrate mental health into the development goals of their Life Sciences division. Mobile health technologies are also a major proposed component of the $215 million Precision Medicine Initiative unveiled this year by President Obama. Similarly, the UK’s Minister for Life Sciences created a £650,000 fund to support the development of mental health apps. Policies and official regulations will need to catch up to this explosion of mental health apps to ensure that they are appropriately researched and implemented. (Anita Balakrishnan,

Medical Device Regulation

The Weird World of Brain Hacking

Non-invasive brain stimulation has been increasingly utilized in scientific studies to study brain function and cognition as well as being tested in novel therapies for a variety of conditions. Transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) has been of particular note as it is relatively inexpensive and easy to implement – involving small electrodes placed on the either side of the head running low current through the brain. Scientists have been exploring types of tDCS to alter neuronal activity in certain brain regions with an effort to aid in the treatment of migraines, chronic pain, epilepsy, treatment-resistant depression, and other conditions. While the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has allowed commercial manufacturers to sell tDCS devices to American scientists for research purposes, these novel treatments are still under development and none are yet approved by the FDA for use as medical treatments.

Nonetheless, there has been a growing online community springing up around at-home, do-it-yourself uses of tDCS for cognitive advancement and self-treatment. Tutorials and discussion among lay users of tDCS have been expanding on YouTube and Reddit in particular, advising on the creation of tDCS devices from 9-volt batteries and easily accessible wiring and electrodes. This has spurred concern from scientists and regulators as this bioethical gray area grows, particularly given that the long-term uses of tDCS have not been studied. The Harvard Medical School’s Center for Bioethics recently ran a workshop discussing this trend of at-home neurostimulation, which was summarized in a report from the Institute of Medicine. Additionally, the FDA ran a workshop this month to bridge scientists, regulators, and the public in discussing ethical and regulatory concerns over the use of neurostimulation. Neurostimulation, including tDCS, will likely involve a rapidly evolving discussion over bioethics and policy among lay, scientific, and governmental stakeholders as this technology becomes increasingly accessible and as the lines between scientific research and lay uses continue to blur.  (Amy Dockser Marcus, The Wall Street Journal)

STEM Education

The Congressional STEAM Caucus May Turn STEM to STEAM in the Reauthorization of ESEA – An Amendment to Add Art and Design to STEM Education

Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici originally created the Congressional Caucus on STEAM in 2013 to advocate for adding a focus on art and design into STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) education. The original goal of the Caucus was to “host briefings and advocate for policy changes that will encourage educators to integrate arts, broadly defined, with traditional Science, Technology, Engineering and Math curriculum. The goal is to encourage the creativity needed to drive our innovation economy forward.” The Caucus was able to finally bring about these policy changes through a recent amendment to rework the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) legislation. This amendment calls for integration of more art and design into STEM education. The amendment will go before the House and Senate for final passage early in December and is expected to likely pass in both.

While backers of the amendment hope that this STEAM approach will increase engagement and attainment in STEM and will promote more well-rounded education, concerns have been raised about this initiative. For example, it is currently unclear how art and design will be integrated into STEM curricula in a way that does justice to both sets of fields and whether we already have adequate methods for this type of more holistic education. Additionally, detractors argue that STEM education does not explicitly exclude the teaching of art and design as they are often implicit in STEM fields and projects. Instead, there are concerns that adding additional focus to art and design in STEM curricula may divert their mission or ‘water down’ their focus. Moreover, proponents of the arts have raised concerns that the focus on what art can add to science and engineering fields continues to devalue the importance of art and design and the roles that STEM can play in the advancement of art. Regardless, these policy changes will likely change the face of STEM and possibly STEAM education and funding in the future. (John M. Eger, Huffington Post Education)

Have an interesting science policy link?  Share it in the comments!


Written by sciencepolicyforall

December 1, 2015 at 9:00 am

Posted in Linkposts

Tagged with , ,

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