What’s on the horizon?

We select topics to examine through our horizon scanning programme, which aims to identify developments relevant to biological and medical research.

We carry out our horizon scanning programme by holding workshops, engaging with a wide range of organisations and individuals, and by monitoring literature and news, across a wide geographical area and different fields of interest and expertise. The Council’s Horizon Scanning Advisory Group oversees the programme. We have identified a wide range of developments that could be on the horizon for bioethics.

We created our first 'What's on the horizon?' interactive infographic in 2019, and because of the positive reception, we now publish one annually. See below for our 2021 infographic. You can also download a PDF with full descriptions of each topic.

Infographics from previous years

Selecting topics for Council work

We choose to carry out work on topics where a response from the Council is anticipated to be timely, distinctive and helpful in terms of informing policy and public discussion.

We may choose to explore some topics in a short time frame by, for example, organising a workshop or developing a briefing note.

Some topics will go on to be explored in an in-depth project. These projects usually take 18-24 months to complete and result in a detailed report with policy recommendations.

For a topic to be selected for an in-depth project, it should meet the following criteria:

Does the topic come within the broad sphere of research in the medical or biological sciences, align with the Council’s strategic plan, and fit within a balanced portfolio of work?

  1. Is the topic ‘new’ or are there any new reasons for looking at it?
  2. Is the topic timely?
  3. Does it raise significant ethical questions?
  4. Does it have significant policy relevance and/or will it anticipate or respond to public concern?
  5. Can the Council make a distinctive contribution?

Once topics are chosen by the Council, they are then passed along to the Governing Board to make sure they fall within the Council’s terms of reference.

Would you like to suggest a topic for the Council to explore?

If it meets the five requirements above, email your suggestion(s) to bioethics@nuffieldbioethics.org.

Horizon scanning advisory group

The role of the Horizon Scanning Advisory Group is to advise the Council on its horizon scanning programme, which aims to identify developments in biological and medical research in order to inform how the Council prioritises and carries out its work. The Group is comprised of Council members, who each serve a two-year term on the Group.

The Future Work Subgroup was stood down in 2017. Its role was to prioritise topics for the Council’s work programme once each year. This task is now carried out on an ongoing basis by the Executive and the whole Council.

Chair: Shaun Pattinson

Professor of Medical Law and Ethics at Durham University

David Archard

Chair of the Council, Professor of Philosophy at Queen’s University Belfast

Carol Brayne

Professor of Public Health Medicine and Director of the Cambridge Institute of Public Health

Tara Clancy

Consultant Registered Genetic Counsellor and Honorary Senior Lecturer at Manchester Centre for Genomic Medicine

Mehrunisha Suleman

Post-doctoral researcher at the Centre of Islamic Studies, University of Cambridge

Susan Tansey

Consultant Pharmaceutical Physician