News & AnalysisNeuroethics

When a Brain Scan Bears Bad News

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Science  26 Oct 2012:
Vol. 338, Issue 6106, pp. 455
DOI: 10.1126/science.338.6106.455

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Studies have shown that as many as 20% of MRI scans performed for research turn up things that seem abnormal but have nothing to do with the study. Called incidental findings (IFs), roughly 2% of these abnormalities require urgent medical attention. Neuroethicists have been publishing papers and convening working groups to develop clearer protocols for researchers dealing with IFs. On 18 October, 28 prominent neuroscientists, clinicians, ethicists, and lawyers gathered in Washington, D.C., to hash out new guidance as part of a working group sponsored by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and other U.S. and Canadian agencies. Amid intense debate, the group wrote guidelines that they hope granting agencies such as NIH and local institutional review boards will adopt.