Postdoc in bioethics / philosophy of medicine

WorkplaceZurich, Zurich region, Switzerland


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100%, Zurich, fixed-term

The Health Ethics and Policy Lab is a multidisciplinary research group established in 2017 at the Department of Health Sciences and Technology (D-HEST) at ETH Zurich. Our current work focuses on the ethical, legal, societal and policy implications of biotechnology, precision medicine, artificial intelligence and digital health.

We are offering a 3-year postdoctoral fellowship (2021-2024) to work on epistemological and ethical aspects of dementia prevention. The fellow will work in the context of an ERA-NET Neuron project called BEAD (“Optimizing the aging Brain? Situating Ethical Aspects of Dementia Prevention”). S/he will be based in the beautiful Zurich - a top ranking city for its quality of life.

Project background

Dementia has for a long time been conceived of as an unpreventable process of mental deterioration. Today, however, it is believed that at least one out of three dementia cases can be prevented by addressing a number of risk factors, including education, diabetes, hypertension, social isolation, and hearing loss. Effectively managing such risk factors requires a life-course approach based on lifestyle as well as community-level interventions. This novel understanding of dementia is based on the idea of a progressive erosion of intrinsic capacity to resist the accumulation of neurological deficits and their clinical manifestation in terms of deteriorating cognitive functions.

From an epistemological point of view, such ‘new dementia’, marks a departure from approaches focused exclusively on the neuropathological aspects of the disease, and in particular on the early detection of cognitive degeneration based on its prodromal manifestations and on specific biomarkers. From an ethical point of view, the ‘new dementia’ raises questions relative to the role personal and societal responsibilities in addressing dementia risk factors, as well as the emergence of novel pervasive forms of self-surveillance based on digital technologies to monitor cognitive function over time.

The objective of this project is to examine how such new scientific discourse on dementia prevention is taking shape and how emerging recommendations about lifestyle, medication-use, and the use of digital technologies are interlinked with national health policy and, more generally, cultures of ageing in selected countries.

In light of the controversial approval – in June 2021 – of the Alzheimer’s disease drug Aduhelm (aducanumab), discussing how different conceptual models of dementia relate to different diagnostic, preventive and public health strategies has acquired unprecedented relevance. In this respect, for the next three years, the project will be at the center of a lively international debate on the epistemological and at the same time ethical dimension of dementia.

Job description

The postdoctoral fellow, in close collaboration with Dr. Alessandro Blasimme (PI of the BEAD project at ETH Zurich), will work on the conceptual hallmarks of dementia, how this condition is being constructed as a target of prevention and treatment, and how the use of molecular as well as digital markers of neuropathology leads to different preventive strategies and public health priorities. The public health ethics consequences of alternative conceptual models of dementia will also be studied.

Expected research activities include:

  • Collecting qualitative data (semi-structured interviews with stakeholders in Switzerland);
  • Reviewing relevant literature in different disciplinary fields (e.g. philosophy of medicine, bioethics, STS, public health, health policy);
  • Undertaking conceptual analysis of relevant medical constructs and public health paradigms;
  • Identify underlying epistemological assumptions and ethical values embedded in different approaches to dementia prevention;
  • Identifying and discussing ethical and societal implications of the ‘new dementia’.

Your profile

  • A PhD in philosophy, bioethics or closely related field;
  • Research experience in domains such as human aging, cognition, neurosciences and digital health is highly desirable;
  • Acquaintance with relevant theoretical approaches in philosophy of medicine, bioethics and public health ethics;
  • Some experience with empirical qualitative research methods;
  • Sufficient familiarity with the scientific aspects of dementia;
  • Proven ability to take responsibility for assigned research tasks;
  • Excellent organizational skills – experience in project management is a plus;
  • Excellent communication skills – both oral and written;
  • Team-oriented, constructive and respectful attitude towards mentors and peers;
  • Full command of written and spoken English.

ETH Zurich

ETH Zurich is one of the world’s leading universities specialising in science and technology. We are renowned for our excellent education, cutting-edge fundamental research and direct transfer of new knowledge into society. Over 30,000 people from more than 120 countries find our university to be a place that promotes independent thinking and an environment that inspires excellence. Located in the heart of Europe, yet forging connections all over the world, we work together to develop solutions for the global challenges of today and tomorrow.
Working, teaching and research at ETH Zurich

In your application, please refer to and reference JobID 52963.

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