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Lab-grown brains could be 'sentient and in pain'


Posted on Monday, 28 October, 2019 | Comment icon 28 comments

Just how self-aware are lab-grown brains ? Image Credit: PD - Max Pixel
Scientists have warned that miniature brains grown in the lab may have become conscious and could be suffering.
Imagine existing entirely as a clump of artificially produced brain tissue in a petri dish, incapable of movement or communication and doomed to be experimented on for your entire existence.

This is the disturbing scenario that some scientists argue could be playing out right now thanks to the progress that has been made in the creation of brain organoids - clumps of tissue and cells used by researchers to develop new types of medicines and to study the workings of the human brain.

Some studies have even detected activity within these miniature brains - so where do we draw the line between a simple science experiment and the creation of a potentially conscious organism ?

"While we have no evidence that [these miniature brains are conscious], there are now very robust protocols that can generate sophisticated activity from these organoids," said Prof Alysson R. Muotri from the University of California in San Diego.
"Thus, I think this is possible in the future. I think we need to inform society about the gradual steps of science, instead of taking people by surprise."

Current organoids are very small - roughly the size of a lentil - and contain only 2 to 3 million cells, a far cry from the many billions of cells present within the exponentially larger human brain.

Hank Greely, a professor of law at Stanford University, argues that the likelihood that one of these has gained sentience is "about at the same level as the risk that your cell phone is in agony whenever it has to play a particular ring tone."

He admits however that in another 10 or 20 years it may very well be a different story.

As things stand, all we can really do is wait and see what the future holds.

Source: Newsweek.com | Comments (28)

Tags: Brain, Consciousness

Recent comments on this story
Comment icon #19 Posted by Tatetopa on 29 October, 2019, 5:15
It is a small lump of brain tissue. It is called an organoid and not a brain for a reason. It lacks the organization and multiple regions of a brain that is part of an organically grown organism. Size is not the issue. Organization is what make tissue into a functioning brain. They are not miniature brains. If we have a problem with this, we better question cancer surgery. A brain tumor is a also conglomeration of brain cells. Should we not remove it?
Comment icon #20 Posted by Manwon Lender on 29 October, 2019, 5:18
I totally agree, but there is a way to find out. They could attach sensors to a few to see if there is a synaptic pattern firing. If they are reproduced from human cells they would be able to tell which parts are firing, such as the Parietal lobe or the pain center.  Another area they could check would be the cerebrum which controls the thought process and feelings, if it's firing something is going on. Now clearly I am not an expert in this area, but they do this to living humans all the to check for brain damage. Please don't laugh to hard at my idea, but I am serious and would be interestin... [More]
Comment icon #21 Posted by third_eye on 29 October, 2019, 5:29
Let's all put our heads together and figure this out... and keep our brains to ourselves...  ~
Comment icon #22 Posted by joc on 29 October, 2019, 8:16
There already is a way to find out...and it doesn't involve anything more than a thought process by a functioning brain.  Brains don't 'feel' anything.  Brains are attached to nerves and the nerves 'feel' ...interpreted by the brain as pain.  We aren't talking about brains really... we are talking about brain cells.  There is no Parietal lobe or any other lobe in a splooch of brain material.  I totally agree with you though in this regard...you are not an expert in this area. 
Comment icon #23 Posted by openozy on 29 October, 2019, 9:46
How do you know it doesn't.
Comment icon #24 Posted by Manwon Lender on 29 October, 2019, 10:07
Hey Jocky, thanks for the vote of confidence, but the fact is you don't know what that splooch of brain is made from. It could be made from any of those lobes. No actually brains aren't attached to nerves, nerves are attached to the Brain and Brain matter consists of billions of interconnecting neurons, which fire and are readable. I know its complicated but you will catch on, I have confidence in you.
Comment icon #25 Posted by joc on 29 October, 2019, 10:22
You don't have the faintest idea what you are even attempting to discuss...but...your opinion is noted.
Comment icon #26 Posted by moonman on 29 October, 2019, 15:08
As stated, you don't know what you are talking about. These are not brains, they are lumps of brain cells. There's a BIG difference.
Comment icon #27 Posted by Manwon Lender on 30 October, 2019, 2:07
Ok ok , I give up you are right there is a Big Difference. Thanks for correcting me I appreciate it.
Comment icon #28 Posted by Manwon Lender on 30 October, 2019, 2:09
Thanks very much, I was certain someone would correct me and at least you were polite in setting me straight.


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