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Iran, China make neuroscience advances
Officials from the Chinese Embassy in Washington and the Iranian mission in New York did not respond to requests for comment by press time. The Iranian mission was closed Wednesday in observation of the end of Ramadan.
DIA officials declined to talk about the report, and the Office of Naval Research, which sent officials to brief the panel, did not respond to interview requests.
Unlike some committee reports on sensitive subjects regarding intelligence or national security, this report does not contain a classified appendix. Christopher C. Green, the committee chairman and a clinical fellow in neuroimaging at the Detroit Medical Center, said that’s because the committee received a number of classified briefings from U.S. government sources but got little useful information.
“We asked them to tell us their impressions of what is going on that might be of value in neuroscience and neurocognition, in particular over the next 20 years in China, Iran and Korea,” said Mr. Green, who also is the assistant dean, Asia Pacific, of the Wayne State School of Medicine in Beijing. “We never got answers we thought were interesting.”
Still, the panel of experts lobbed intelligence officials a warning about Tehran: “The development of other forms of military technologies, such as neurotechnological devices, to build Iran’s national defense and perhaps even offense, remains largely unknown. It poses a threat to international stability, and we are compelled to learn more about ethical regulations for biomedical research in Iran.”
More than moral considerations, ethical regulations over biomedical research on human testing have a strategic impact - giving nations with loose or no testing regulations an advantage over those with strict laws and monitoring.
There are international documents that nations pledge to follow in terms of human and animal testing, but each nation is responsible for establishing its compliance regime.
The study reports that Iran’s ethics framework for human testing is largely influenced by the Islamic underpinnings of the society. Tehran says it adheres to international documents and guidelines on human testing and has confirmed its compliance with the United Nations and UNESCO documents that deal with human rights.
“However, the Iranian record of questionable treatment of [assumed] homosexuals, women, and secular scholars does not bolster confidence that both international and Iranian bioethics guidelines will always be complied with by Iranian government biomedical researchers,” the report states.
As for China, the NRC report cites a paucity of regulations on human testing but indicates an effort by officials to improve protections.
“My experience suggests that China is trying to firm up its human testing rules,” said Mr. Moreno, author of “Mind Wars,” a book exploring the intersection of neuroscience and national security. He added that he did not have information about Iran’s ethical guidelines.
“In any case, the fact is there’s no international regime for monitoring human experiments,” Mr. Moreno said.
The disparities in human testing regulations and the lack of international monitoring, according to Dennis K. McBride, academic president at the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies and an affiliated professor at Georgetown University, is a serious problem that threatens, among other things, to shift the weight of research power in biotechnology from the United States to other nations, especially China.
“For a number of reasons, from differences in human testing controls to intellectual property laws, the U.S. stands to lose its leadership in biotechnology in a matter of years, not decades,” Mr. McBride said.
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