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Test Tube Brains Make for Ethical Dilemma

Rapidly evolving tech has some wondering where to draw the line
By Josh Gardner,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 3, 2018 1:30 PM CDT
A stock photo of a man undergoing a scan.   (Getty/gorodenkoff)

(Newser) – Rapidly evolving technology now allows scientists to create bits of tissue that are extremely similar to the kind that make up parts of the human brain. Per the Washington Post, these developments are a boon for researchers, but they've forced scientists to ask themselves basic ethical questions about what makes something "alive." The cutting-edge technique, put simply, turns human stem cells into bits of brain-like tissue that function more like the real thing than anything developed before. According to Science Daily, researchers at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine revealed in July they've demonstrated a way to create self-organizing "organoids" of tissue that contain all the same cell types found in the cerebral cortex.

This is great for folks who research things like human development or cancer, but the mini "brains" are an ethical quandary in the making. “If, at the sunset of life, the brain is what you examine to know if someone has died, at the beginning of life is there a point where you might say, ‘Look, the brain is at the beginning of life?’” Case Western Reserve bioethicist Insoo Hyun told WaPo. “Many people don’t understand where the science is now, and where it could go in the future—including, I think, the researchers." While the mini "brains" function at nowhere near the complexity of a thinking, breathing human's, researchers have called for a public debate on the issue in order to circumvent any future moral or ethical debacle as the science develops. (This scientist is living with his own very personal ethical dilemma.)

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