Reserachers at UCSD discovered organoids, mini brain cells grown in labs cultivated from human skin cells, are producing brain waves that show similar patterns to the brain waves of premature babies.
Why do they even grow these things?
The name organoids does sound like something out of a horror flick but there’s a reason why scientists work so hard on growing them. Human brains, because you can’t just open up a living person’s skull and look into it to see how things work in there, are notoriously difficult to study. Scientists so far had to work with mice and monkeys and kinda just hoped what worked with these animals would work with humans, too, which isn’t always the case.
Organoid brain cells offer scientists opportunities to experiment directly on a range of brain-related diseases like autism, schizophrenia, and Pitt-Hopkins syndrome. Dr. Fabio Papes at U of Campinas in Brazil who’s working with UCSD lab on the syndrome, said organoids are crucial in studying the disease and that “we can go this way, or not go at all.”
What if these Organoids gain consciousness, tho?
That’s the tricky part. Dr. Giorgia Quadrato, a biologist at UCSD stressed that the organoids are not like the brains of preterm infants but her colleague Dr. Alysson Muotri also confessed he isn’t sure if they will be conscious or not.
Nita Farahany, professor of law and philosophy at Duke U, takes a more reserved stance. She wants to know if the organoids should be granted moral status if they “gain any perceptions of pain or any perception whatsoever”.
She’s not against organoids, though – she added that “we have to figure out an ethical way to enable this research to progress” because organoids do offer the potential to address “so much human suffering, disease, things that are very difficult to model in animals we’ll never reach”.
What exactly would be the “ethical” way, then?
The National Institutes of Health and other orgs are beginning to come up with some guidelines for researchers. Yet another example of lawyers and philosophers playing catch up with scientists.