Tiny Lab-Grown 'Brains' Raise Big Ethical Questions

NPR – Bits of human brain tissue no larger than a pea are forcing scientists to think about questions as large as the nature of consciousness.

These clusters of living brain cells are popularly known as minibrains, though scientists prefer to call them cerebral organoids. At the moment, they remain extremely rudimentary versions of an actual human brain and are used primarily to study brain development and disorders like autism.

But minibrain research is progressing so quickly that scientists need to start thinking about the potential implications now, says Nita Farahany, a professor of law and philosophy at Duke University and the director of Duke Science and Society.

"Is it possible that an organoid far off in the future could develop something that looks like consciousness or any kind of sentience, the ability to feel something like pain," she says.

Farahany and 16 other prominent scientists, ethicists and philosophers posed this question and many others in a commentary in this week's issue of the journal Nature.

Read more at NPR.

SciPol Editors' Note: Dr. Nita Farahany, lead author of the commentary piece mentioned in this article, is the Director of the Duke Initiative for Science and Society, the parent organization to Duke SciPol.