“Mini Brains” in the lab show electrical activity similar to
Researchers have developed successfully mini brains in the labs which are essentially a cluster of brain cells perfused in fluids. These brain tissues are now showing electrical activity akin to real brain, explain the researchers and this is a path-breaking development in brain research. The brain activity shown by the clumps of cells is same as that shown by brains of premature babies they explain.

While this is a progress in the field of neurobiology, the appearance of the electrical waves have also raised some ethical questions. The researchers describe these brains grown in labs as organoids. These are three dimensional clumps of tissues that are miniature and are simplified versions of the organs that are grown in the lab for research purposes. They can be used for testing new drugs and agents for example on the brain tissue. These organoids are also useful for study of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinsonism and neurodevelopmental conditions such as autism, write the researchers.

However this development is also fraught with ethical concerns. Last year in November this study results were presented at the Allen Institute for Brain Science in Seattle. From this institute, neuroscientist Christof Koch said in a statement, “The closer they get to the preterm infant, the more they should worry.” “The closer we come to his goal, the more likely we will get a brain that is capable of sentience and of feeling pain, agony and distress,” Dr. Koch said. Researchers and experts on bioethics from across the world have lauded the study and also sounded words of caution.

The authors of the study have defended themselves saying that the organoids are engineered to lack a particular protein that could allow the neurons to form networks and connections. They have said that if they detect the organoids showing signs of becoming a conscious human being, the team would shut down the project. “There are some of my colleagues who say, ‘No, these things will never be conscious,’” said Dr. Muotri. “Now I’m not so sure.”

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