Project focus: Lomax will focus on ethics, science, and society, including seeking a pathway to responsible creation and use of neural organoids that accounts for and incorporates public perception, as well as the ethical and policy implications of the technology.
Lomax Boyd is a neurobiologist serving as the Civic Science Fellow based at the Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics and Kavli Neuroscience Discovery Institute. His research investigating the origins of the human brain has provoked curiosity and wonder about what it means to be human, but also raised ethical questions about how to seek, understand, and share beliefs about ourselves. He utilizes his experiences as a former documentary filmmaker at the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University, and Fulbright Scholar at the National Film Board of Canada, and a creative technologist at HHMI to explore opportunities for integrating scientific and public understandings of the human brain, and the human being, more broadly.
1. What was the focus of your work as a Civic Science Fellow? What did you do?
The focus of my project was to explore how neuroscience research using human brain organoids could better reflect the social and ethical concerns expressed by diverse publics. I engaged in numerous collaborative and independent projects on the ethics of human brain organoids. These efforts included co-authoring a paper published in AJOB Neuroscience on the risks of bioethics discourse in public engagement; serving as an embedded ethicist on a successfully funded project establishing a field of Organoid Intelligence; leading the effort to establish a Dana Center for Neuroscience and Society at Johns Hopkins; attending a research retreat on the ethics of cerebral organoids in Tubingin, Germany; preparing two manuscripts for two upcoming special collections where I propose pathways for ethical engagement; conducting a community of practice survey with early career neuroscientists interested in societal issues; and organizing a co-design workshop bringing neuroscientists and disease advocacy groups together to address challenges facing both groups.
2. How do you hope your work as a Fellow will influence the future—for yourself, an organization, a community, or a field?
I hope the outputs of my fellowship will demonstrate the need and value of having Neuroscience and Society scholars embedded within academia, who bridge the interface between academic research and social issues. I hope this will demonstrate the value of practicing neuroscientists who are also trained ethicists, as is common in the medical field where academic clinicians are also bioethics scholars. Only by having our feet in both worlds can we hope to gain access, trust, and legitimacy to work across disciplines on challenging intersectional issues.
3. What’s one insight you’d share from your work as a Civic Science Fellow?
My independent project, “Habitats for Hybrids,” illuminates a scientific and ethical path for human brain organoids research involving animals. This project illustrates how scientific ambitions and ethical concerns can converge on shared solutions. I propose a solution to the impasse where scientists want to create experimental models of the human brain, while ethicists express concern about respecting the moral status of these entities. “Habitats for Hybrids” proposes that animal models of the human brain require human-like habitats—complex socio-environments—in order to facilitate proper brain development. My synthesis calls for an entirely new field of empirical neuroethics where the moral status and scientific value of hybrid entities, are discovered from the merging of neuroscience, ethology, and ethics in order to create a scientifically useful and ethically justified model of the human brain.