The scientific community is in danger of exceeding (if not already ) its ethical responsibilities in the race to study and understand the mysteries of the human brain.
In recent years, mini-brains, also known as organoids, have been a very valuable resource in neuroscience and related fields. And in our process of further development, we have at our disposal tools and resources to create things that were only a theory decades ago.
Now, during the largest meeting of neuroscientists in the world, a team led by the Green Neuroscience laboratory in San Diego demonstrated the urgency of establishing a framework or criterion that stipulates what sentience is, so that future research with mini-brains and stem cell culture will adhere to clear ethical rules. Neural organoids have the potential to advance our comprehension of human brain development and neurological disorders.
“The compositional and causal features in these cultures are – by design – often very similar to naturally occurring neural substrates,” the team explains in their abstract.
“Recent developments in organoid research also entail that the anatomical substrates are now approaching local network organization and larger structures found in sentient animals.”
Mini Brains have become very popular among experts in recent years. Experts have promoted the use of mini-brains as a practical alternative to animal testing. Furthermore, advancements in nurturing stem cells are assisting scientists to figure out how to mimic the complex neural subtypes of human brain tissue.
Advancements in the field are coming quicker than expected, and some experts are worried about the rapid pace with which the field is developing, with some scientists saying that the growth is scary.
Scientists have been using mini-brains that grow in dishes to probe the differences between humans and chimps.
In March of 2019, scientists successfully grew a lab mini-brain which they say was roughly analogous in terms of complexity to a human fetal brain at around 13 weeks old. In the context of their model experiment, the scientists observed how the lab-grown mini-brain spontaneously connected itself to a nearby spinal cord and muscle tissue.
Cerebral organoids have been shown to model early brain development with remarkable fidelity. Recent advances in this field have demonstrated their capacity to model neurogenesis, neuronal migration and positioning, and even response to sensory input.
Although scientists say that the lab-grown mini-brains are far from showing the neural sophistication of human and animal brains, recent computational models indicate we are worryingly close to being able to grow fully sentient brains in a dish.
“Current organoid research is perilously close to crossing this ethical Rubicon and may have already done so,” the researchers explain.
“Despite the field’s perception that the complexity and diversity of cellular elements in vivo remain unmatched by today’s organoids, current cultures are already isomorphic to sentient brain structure and activity in critical domains and so may be capable of supporting sentient activity and behavior.”
“If there’s even a possibility of the organoid being sentient, we could be crossing that line,” Elan Ohayon from the Green Neuroscience Lab told The Guardian.