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Can lab-grown brain tissues develop consciousness— and other ethical issues surrounding so-called ‘mini brains’




Hippocampal neuron in culture. Dendrites are green, dendritic spines are red and DNA in cells nucleus is blue.
Hippocampal neuron in culture. Dendrites are green, dendritic spines are red and DNA in cells nucleus is blue.
Science Source/Getty Images

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The development of cerebral organoids, also known as mini-brains, has ignited a debate over its ethical consequences.

Currently, those living brain cells are used to study brain development and disorders. But the research of cerebral organoids is progressing so quickly that scientists need to consider implications like developing “what looks like consciousness or any kind of sentience, the ability to feel something like pain,” says Nita Farahany, a professor of law and philosophy at Duke University and the director of Duke Science and Society. So what are the ethics of experimenting with human brain tissue? We explore whether potential health benefits outweigh ethical risks.

GUEST:

Nita Farahany, lead author of a paper in Nature on the ethics of experimenting with human brain tissue; She is the director of a professor of law and philosophy at Duke University, and director of the school’s Bioethics & Science Policy curriculum