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Society is not ready to make human brains

Credit: Kyoto University

Stem cell research has allowed us to deliver medicine to what was once a science fiction fiction. Scientists use stem cells to make heart cells, brain cells, and other cell types that are now being transplanted into patients as a form of cell therapy. Ultimately, the field expects the same to be possible with organs. A new paper written by an international group of researchers led by Taku Sawai, an assistant professor at the Center for iPS Cell Research and Application (ASHBi) and the Center for iPS Cell Research and Application (CiRA), Kyoto University, explains future ethics. The implications of this study of brain organoids, laboratory-made structures designed to grow and behave like the brain.

Over a decade later, a new word appeared in the Glossary of Stem Cell Science. Organoids are organ-like structures that mimic how organs are formed in the body.By summarizing Normal developmentOrganoids have proven to be an invaluable tool for understanding not only how organs grow, but also how diseases develop. Organoids have been reported in a variety of organs, including the liver, kidneys, and most controversial organs, the brain.

The brain is considered the source of our consciousness. Therefore, if cerebral organoids really imitate the brain, they should also develop consciousness, which, as the treatise states, has all sorts of moral implications.

“Consciousness is a very difficult property to define. There is no good experimental method to confirm consciousness. However, even if consciousness cannot be proved, it is required by scientific progress, so we set guidelines. We need to, “says Sawai, who spent several years writing about the ethics of brain organoid research.

Brain organoids have raised deep questions about consciousness. Organoids envision a future in which the brain is uploaded and retained in the cloud even after our bodies die. Organoids provide the opportunity to test consciousness and morality in an artificial environment.

Ethicists have broken down consciousness into many types. Phenomenal consciousness presupposes a consciousness of pain, joy, and distress. Sawai et al., Even if it is necessary to suppress experiments using brain organoids, animals commonly used in science such as rodents and monkeys also show phenomenal consciousness, so phenomenal consciousness completes the experiment. Claims not to ban it. Self-consciousness is added to the ethical conflict as this condition bestows higher morality.

However, Sawai said there were more pressing issues.

“One of the biggest questions is transplantation. Should we put brain organoids in animals to observe how the brain behaves?”

Stem cell studies have shown the potential to grow heterologous organs. For example, researchers have been very successful in growing mouse pancreas in rats and vice versa, and similar studies are expected to grow human pancreas in pigs. As a rule, these animals become harvestable organ donors and can avoid long waiting times for organ donors.

Growing the entire human brain in animals has not been seriously considered, but how transplanting brain organoids can form and treat diseases such as dementia and schizophrenia. Gain important insights into treatments.

“This is still too futuristic, but that doesn’t mean we have to wait to determine ethical guidelines. The concern is the brain, not the biological humanization of the animals that can occur with organoids,” he said.

Other concerns include enhanced abilities-think Planet of the Apes. Moreover, if an animal develops a humanized trait, treating it inhumanely violates human dignity, a central belief in ethical practice.

The treatise states that some people do not consider these results unethical. Enhanced ability without changing oneself-Consciousness It’s the same as using higher animals in experiments, such as shifting from mice to monkeys. And a change in dignity does not mean a change in human dignity. Instead, changes can bring a new type of dignity.

Anyway, the authors believe that the possibility of unintended connections between transplanted brain organoids and the animal’s brain deserves preventative consideration.

However, the greatest concern about brain organoid transplantation is not relevant to animals. There is good reason to believe that as research progresses, these structures may be transplanted to patients suffering from sudden trauma, stroke, or other brain damage in the future.

There are already many clinical trials, including transplants Brain cells As cell therapy for patients with such injuries or neurodegenerative diseases. Sawai said that the ethics behind these treatments are: Brain organoid..

“Cell transplantation changes the way the brain works cell function. If something goes wrong, you can’t take them out and start over. But nowadays, cell transplants are usually done in one place. Brain organoids are expected to interact more deeply with the brain and are at risk of more unexpected changes, “he believes.

At the end of 2018, the stem cell space was in turmoil when scientists announced that they had genetically engineered a human embryo that was maturing. Scientists’ actions clearly violated the international framework and were sentenced to imprisonment.

To avoid similar controversy and potential loss of public trust brain Organoid The study makes it clear that all stakeholders, including ethicists, policy makers and scientists, need to be in constant communication about progress in this area.

“We need to keep in touch with each other on a regular basis about scientific facts and their ethical, legal and social implications,” says Sawai.


Researchers create a three-dimensional organoid model of the human forebrain


For more information:
Sawai Soba et al. Mapping of ethical issues in research and application of brain organoids, AJOB Neuroscience (2021). DOI: 10.1080 / 21507740.2021.1896603

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Kyoto University

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