As research transplanting lab-grown human ‘mini brains’ into animals to study neurological diseases continues to expand, experts warn that work with these brain organoids could result in a ‘Planet of the Apes’ scenario.
The concern is that animals can develop humanized traits and behave like the intelligent monkeys of the popular science fiction story.
The warning comes from a team at Kyoto University that has published a paper highlighting some of the ethical implications that may arise in brain organoid research.
While many see brain organoids as a way to rapidly develop disease treatments, others fear that because they are designed to mimic the real thing, they can also achieve some form of consciousness.
Scroll down for video
Experts warn that working with these brain organoids could result in a ‘Planet of the Apes’ scenario. The concern is that animals can develop humanized traits and behave like the intelligent monkeys of the popular science fiction story
Tsutomu Sawai, an assistant professor at Kyoto University, said, “This is still too futuristic, but that doesn’t mean we should hold off on deciding on ethical guidelines.
“The concern is not so much a biological humanization of the animal, which can happen with any organoid, but a moral humanization, which is exclusive to the brain.”
Brain organoids, first created in 2008, are 3D balls of brain-like tissue grown from stem cells – and mostly human ones.
Other stem cell research uses animal tissue to grow organoids called xeno organs that are transplanted into other animals.
Brain organoids (pictured), first created in 2008, are 3D balls of brain-like tissue grown from stem cells – and usually human ones. Some fear that because they are designed to mimic the real, they too may attain some form of consciousness
For example, scientists have successfully grown a mouse pancreas at a rate and vice versa.
This groundbreaking work paves the way for human pancreas that can be grown in pigs that can later be harvested for human organ transplants.
However, it is noted in the papers that these animals would carry out their lives as organ farms for the sake of humans.
However, Sawai said there is a more pressing problem.
‘One of the biggest problems is transplants. Should we put brain organoids in animals to observe how the brain behaves? ‘
Sawai warns that this could result in the animals gaining improved abilities, which may sound like the popular Planet of the Apes.
The story has been popular since it was first released in 1968 and then again in 2017 as a remake.
Planet of the Apes is set on a distant planet sometime in the future, where three astronauts get stranded and discover that the world is ruled by intelligent apes.
While growing whole human brains in animals is not seriously considered, transplanting brain organoids could provide crucial insight into how diseases such as dementia or schizophrenia arise and treatments to cure them.
The organoids in the brain have provided scientists with a new way to study the human brain – to better understand how it develops to learn how diseases develop.
While growing whole human brains in animals is not seriously considered, transplanting brain organoids could provide crucial insight into how diseases such as dementia or schizophrenia arise and treatments to cure them. The cells in a brain organoid are shown
However, the topic has been answered with mixed signals in the scientific community, as some see brain organoids as a way to rapidly develop treatments for devastating brain diseases and others fear that organoids will soon reach some form of consciousness.
The brain is considered the source of human consciousness, so if brain organoids are just a smaller version of the real thing, they too should develop consciousness.
And the Kyoto University paper states that this has all kinds of moral implications.
Consciousness is a very difficult quality to define. We don’t have very good experimental techniques that confirm consciousness, ” said Sawai, who has written for years on the ethics of brain organoid research.
“But even if we can’t prove consciousness, we have to make guidelines, because scientific progress requires it.”
However, the main concern regarding brain organoid transplantation does not concern animals.
All brain organoid pathways indicate that they have been transplanted into human patients who have suffered some sort of sudden brain injury or trauma.
There are already a number of clinical studies in which brain cells are transplanted as cell therapy in patients with such injuries or neurodegenerative diseases.
Sawai said the ethics behind these therapies could serve as a paradigm for brain organoids.
Cell transplants change the way brain cells function. If something goes wrong, we can’t just take them out and start over, ”Sawai said.
‘But at the moment, cell transplants usually only take place at one location. Brain organoids are expected to act more deeply on the brain, causing more unexpected changes. ‘