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Sunday, December 23, 2018

Fresh urgency in mapping out ethics of brain organoid research

Julian Koplin and Julian Savulescu
The Conversation
Originally published November 20, 2018

Here is an excerpt:

But brain organoid research also raises serious ethical questions. The main concern is that brain organoids could one day attain consciousness – an issue that has just been brought to the fore by a new scientific breakthrough.

Researchers from the University of California, San Diego, recently published the creation of brain organoids that spontaneously produce brain waves resembling those found in premature infants. Although this electrical activity does not necessarily mean these organoids are conscious, it does show that we need to think through the ethics sooner rather than later.

Regulatory gaps

Stem cell research is already subject to careful regulation. However, existing regulatory frameworks have not yet caught up with the unique set of ethical concerns associated with brain organoids.

Guidelines like the National Health and Medical Research Council’s National Statement on Ethical Conduct in Human Research protect the interests of those who donate human biological material to research (and also address a host of other issues). But they do not consider whether brain organoids themselves could acquire morally relevant interests.

This gap has not gone unnoticed. A growing number of commentators argue that brain organoid research should face restrictions beyond those that apply to stem cell research more generally. Unfortunately, little progress has been made on identifying what form these restrictions should take.

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