The scientific community is in danger of exceeding (if not already done) its ethical responsibilities in the race to study and understand the mysteries of the human brain. Scientists are close to creating conscious brains.
Mini-brains, also known as organoids, have in recent years been a very important resource in neuroscience and related fields. And while these laboratory analogs grow from stem cells and are technically not considered human or animal organs, they are becoming more and more functional.
Now, in a presentation held this week at 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 consciousness is, so that This way future research using mini-brains and stem cell culture will adhere to clear ethical rules. (creating conscious brains)
“The constitutive and causal characteristics in these crops are – by design – often very similar to what occurs in natural neural substrates,” explains the team in its article. «Recent developments in organoid research also suggest that anatomical substrates are increasingly approaching network organization and larger structures found in conscious animals»
And there is enough evidence to support the point presented by the San Diego scientists. In recent years, laboratory mini-brains have been promoted as an economical and alternative to animal testing, and advances in stem cell nutrition are helping scientists perfect the imitation of complex neural subtypes of tissue human brain
The mini-brains grown in dishes have allowed researchers to test the differences between humans and chimpanzees, and the frantic pace with which this field is evolving is almost terrifying.
Last March, a team managed to develop a mini-brain whose complexity was almost analogous to that of a human fetus of 12 or 13 weeks and, in the context of the model of their experiment, it spontaneously connected itself to a spinal cord and a nearby muscle tissue.
Months later and in a different experiment, the researchers detected electrical activity in organoids that resembled those waves of the human brain.
And while the teams of scientists behind these incredible achievements believe that the level of neural sophistication they observe is very primitive, the computational models of the Green Neuroscience laboratory suggest that we are getting closer and closer to the cultivation of conscious brains in a Petri dish.
“The current organoid research is dangerously close to crossing the ethical Rubicon and, in fact, I could have done it already,” they explain. «Despite the perception of the field that the complexity and diversity of cellular elements in vivo remain unmatched by today’s organoids, current cultures are already isomorphic to a conscious brain structure and activity, and therefore capable of harboring this type of behavior and conscious activity ».
The Green Neuroscience laboratory is led by Elan Ohayon and Ann Lam, a neuroscientist and a neuroscientist who have underlined the “Map to the New Neuroscience” : a set of fundamental ethical principles for their research, designed to exclude “toxic methodologies”, experimentation with animals, and methods that would otherwise violate individual rights, privacy and autonomy.
From his point of view, the state of sophistication in the current mini-brain research means that we should grant the same protections to the primitive organoids that could be complex enough to have thoughts and feelings
«If there is even the slightest possibility that an organoid is aware, we would be crossing that line. We don’t want research to be done where there is a potential for something to suffer, ”concludes Ohayon.