The Ethics of ‘Mini Human Brains’

Sep 9, 2013

You’ve probably already heard about the: Miniature ‘human brain’ grown in laboratory.

The research, involving the growth of cerebral ‘organoids’ from human stem cells, was published in Nature on Wednesday. For some good coverage of the science behind this work, see Ed Yong’s piece here and the FAQ here.

It’s not hard to see why these little blobs have attracted a lot of media attention. It’s a remarkable technique, although growing brain cells in culture is not new. Such ‘brains in a dish’ have been around for some time.

What’s new here is that these organoids grew in 3D, and – all by themselves – started to differentiate into rudimentary brain regions.

Incredible. But is it ethical?

There are, perhaps, three ways to look at this. Firstly, you might feel that such research is repellent by its very nature – that to dissect the human brain in this way is “playing God”, or some such.


Written By: Neuroskeptic
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0 comments on “The Ethics of ‘Mini Human Brains’

  • 5
    Alan4discussion says:

    The Ethics of ‘Mini Human Brains’

    Ah! The science of stem-cell culture – not YEC thinking power!

    This should shake up the ludicrous RCC claim that fertilised eggs are human beings!

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  • 6
    Zeuglodon says:

    The difference between ganglia and mice is the organization of the neurons. This, rather than size, is what really matters. So I’d say it would only be unethical to create a culture with sufficiently developed connections that it crossed some threshold of complexity.

    I find this interesting, barring the issue of “Discontinuous Minds” Dawkins raised elsewhere – that the threshold would most likely be purely for legal reasons rather than reflect any real dichotomy in the world – but I think a case could be made that we’d have to show some baseline form of respect for a neural network even if it lacks some features found in complex functional brains. For instance, researchers should avoid inflicting unnecessary suffering, and so forth, just as if it were an animal or a neurological patient.

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