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Mini-Brains Grown In the Lab 170

fustakrakich sends news that researchers from the Austrian Academy of Sciences have used embryonic stem cells to grow a tiny human brain in a laboratory. The miniature brain, roughly the size of a pea, is at the same level of development as that of a 9-week-old fetus. From the BBC: "They used either embryonic stem cells or adult skin cells to produce the part of an embryo that develops into the brain and spinal cord - the neuroectoderm. This was placed in tiny droplets of gel to give a scaffold for the tissue to grow and was placed into a spinning bioreactor, a nutrient bath that supplies nutrients and oxygen. The cells were able to grow and organise themselves into separate regions of the brain, such as the cerebral cortex, the retina, and, rarely, an early hippocampus, which would be heavily involved in memory in a fully developed adult brain. The tissues reached their maximum size, about 4mm (0.1in), after two months. The 'mini-brains' have survived for nearly a year, but did not grow any larger. There is no blood supply, just brain tissue, so nutrients and oxygen cannot penetrate into the middle of the brain-like structure."
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Mini-Brains Grown In the Lab

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  • Re:Welcome! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Greg01851 ( 720452 ) on Wednesday August 28, 2013 @05:03PM (#44700425)
    Unfortunately, many of them already are: []
  • by Immerman ( 2627577 ) on Wednesday August 28, 2013 @05:34PM (#44700795)

    To my mind this is where this kind of research starts treading into murky ethical waters. Harvest stem cells from aborted fetuses? Fine, as long as you avoid creating any perverse incentives that might encourage abortions then I don't see the problem, you're just salvaging as much as possible from a difficult decision.

    But growing brains in a lab? What would they have done if the brains ended up growing the necessary infrastructure as well as the neural tissue? At some point we're going to have something approaching a "real" human brain, and given that we credit the brain with containing the essence of a person that brain-in-a-jar will should probably be granted human rights. Not that such rights are likely to be terribly relevant to a mind trapped without sensory input. In fact I imagine there's a fair chance that it would be driven completely mad before it even reached full-term development.

  • Re:Ethics (Score:4, Insightful)

    by MightyMartian ( 840721 ) on Wednesday August 28, 2013 @05:50PM (#44700951) Journal

    You know, at some point, whether you like it or not, we will probably be making organic computers I've some kind or another that are, for all intents and purposes, grown brains. Creepy, perhaps, but inevitable.

  • by dublin ( 31215 ) on Wednesday August 28, 2013 @05:56PM (#44701013) Homepage

    This is a good reason *why* embryonic stem cell research is rightfully vilified. This isn't treading into ethically murky waters, it's heading out to sea in a supercharged Cigarette.

    This is simply monstrous - in the most literal possible meaning of the word. I'm a tough enough guy, but I've only felt physically ill or repulsed as I did when reading TFAs a few other times, one of those was reading summaries of the Kermit Gosling trial. This is in some ways even worse, because there isn't even a grisly profit motive in play - it's just a flatly staggering disregard for humanity and ethical norms in the name of "science"...

  • by FatdogHaiku ( 978357 ) on Wednesday August 28, 2013 @07:24PM (#44701705)
    See, I was thinking instead of having to fight through a zombie apocalypse we would just train them to line up every morning for a bag of "Zombie Chow"... and then they're off to work for major TV networks, telephone fund raising efforts, political campaigns, etc..
    It's a no brainer!
    OK, it's a small brainer...
  • by gregor-e ( 136142 ) on Wednesday August 28, 2013 @07:36PM (#44701795) Homepage
    Suppose someone you love has Parkinson's. Now imagine these scientists have extracted cells from your loved one, and, through genetic engineering, repaired the genetic flaw that caused your loved one to lose their substantia nigra. Now suppose these scientists cultivate a tiny little brain from these transformed cells and harvest substantia nigra cells from it, which they transplant into your loved one's brain, thus curing their Parkinson's. Would you feel any better about it then?
  • by fahrbot-bot ( 874524 ) on Wednesday August 28, 2013 @07:59PM (#44701981)

    Only scientists have the obligation to not only ask "_Can_ we do this?" but also "_Should_ we do this?"

    Perhaps the world would be a better place if *everyone* (felt like they) had this obligation.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday August 28, 2013 @08:16PM (#44702081)

    No offense but I think this might be outside your area of expertise? I've been reading and following various forms of AI and neuron development for a few years now and this didn't cause much of an eye blink. There's no reason to suggest, and plenty of science to raise doubt, there is any form of consciousness appearing or reacting in this circumstance.

      There's growing evidence to suggest consciousness emerges through the complex neuronal communication over many years of life, such that most 4 years olds are considered to have limited consciousness.

  • by Culture20 ( 968837 ) on Wednesday August 28, 2013 @09:23PM (#44702481)

    And proof of consciousness is what again?

    Not sure if I'm answering your question... but anyway: a test of (self) consciousness is recognizing oneself in a mirror as such. They test it by painting a cross on the forehead (and a control group with an invisible cross) and holding a mirror. Humans, hominid apes, elephants, whales/dolphins-family and magpies (and perhaps some very smart pigs, but evidence is inconclusive) pass this test: they reach out for the cross on their own head, rather than for the mirror, or they try to shrub it off their forehead in other ways.

    Of course, a brain in a jar cannot pass this test.

    Nor can a blind man. Does consciousness rely on one sense or any sensation at all? Does it rely on mental word constructs or is it independent, merely making use of available patterns?

  • by Derec01 ( 1668942 ) on Wednesday August 28, 2013 @09:26PM (#44702491)

    If anything that makes the issue far *more* problematic. If a one year old has "no consciousness to speak of", we have two options. Grant only subhuman rights to infants, or accept that human rights and right to life is not contingent only on consciousness .

    Now, we've damaged the argument that these mini-brains are morally safe because they have no consciousness.

    This made me feel very uneasy. These brains are probably equivalent to miscarriaged fetuses, but what if we grew them a little large? Started feeding them electrical signals from the outside? Accepted electrical signals they provided into a feedback loop that sent more complicated signals back? We've now introduced them to *an* outside world if not *our* outside world. When does that consciousness start?

In seeking the unattainable, simplicity only gets in the way. -- Epigrams in Programming, ACM SIGPLAN Sept. 1982