back to article Boffins raise five-week-old fetal human brain in the lab for experimentation

A scientific team in Ohio has managed to raise the most complete human brain yet, and plan to use it for testing drugs and trying to understand autism. The brain is at the same stage of development as a five-week-old fetus and contains 99 per cent of the same cells that you'd find in an in-utero equivalent. It's about the size …

  1. Bob Dole (tm)
    Coffee/keyboard

    Do vat grown brains dream?

    I'm not entirely sure how I feel about this.

    On the one hand we're talking about a few converted cells that were destined to flake off and be sucked up into a vacuum cleaner to ultimately end up in a landfill. On the other, those cells were turned into a living brain. An actual bit of matter that has the possibility of conscious thought.

    What defines us? I can lose an arm or leg or even have a heart transplant and I'm still me. But if I lose even just a part of my brain then I'm not entirely the same person. Does the vat brain think? Is it technically alive? Obviously it's not breathing per se, but it must be functional on some level otherwise there would be no point in attempting to experiment on it.

    Yes - I understand that testing on it is better than testing on animal brains; and, yes, for some odd reason I have very few problems with animal testing. However we have now entered pseudo human testing. It's not like they took an actual normally created human brain and liberated it from it's former body. Yet, still, there's something that doesn't sit quite right with this.

    Has an ethical commission considered these questions? Is there such a group of heavy thinkers out there that scientists can turn to? If so, I'd love to hear their thoughts on the subject.

    1. Martin Summers Silver badge

      Re: Do vat grown brains dream?

      I thought exactly what you said in your comment as I read the article. The whole thing whilst amazing gives me the creeps. I had the thought of a person with locked in syndrome being the similar experience of this brain if it were conscious, only this would be a child. Scary. Presumably they are going to monitor it for activity, but without external stimulus how much would there be?

      1. Martin Summers Silver badge

        Re: Do vat grown brains dream?

        I'd love down voters to explain themselves on this one. I wouldn't normally care but you could seriously do with explaining why I'm so wrong to think what I think.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Do vat grown brains dream?

          Pay no mind. I would guess those down votes are from ardent pro-abortion advocates. They fear that your disgust for this brain-growing thing is too similar to disgust at killing the unborn, so their political defenses get triggered. It's basically just noise.

        2. Field Commander A9

          Enlighten me on this:

          Does a fertilized egg cell have human rights? Does an embryo have Human Rights? And what about a fetus? An infant? Even a toddler?

          1. deadcow

            Re: Enlighten me on this:

            No. No. Eventually. Yes. Yes. In that order (depending upon your country of origin).

          2. PNGuinn

            Re: Enlighten me on this: @Field Commander A9

            Simple answer: Depends on your jurisdiction.

            In the UK a born child has human rights. So a baby, born prematurely, even months early, is "human", and steps must be taken to preserve its life. To kill the child would be murder. In the UK abortion as allowed up to full term in some circumstances. That "fetus" is NOT considered a human being, destroying it is perfectly legal.

            Does this make scientific / engineering sense?

            Does this make moral sense?

            When does a new life begin?

            My own view is that a human life begins when a sperm fertilises an egg. At that point there is a unique human being with potential (not a potential human being). That fertilised egg has to spend some 9 months developing in a very specialised protected and changing environment (fallopian tube / womb) before it is ready to emerge into the world, where it is still helpless on its own. It needs continued somewhat specialised and developing care before it is able to fend for itself. We tend to take this second phase somewhat for granted, as we see it taking place all around us. It's pretty incredible all the same.

            From an engineering point of view, given enough research pork, and some spare fertilised eggs to play with, I suggest that today the development of an artificial womb is merely a development exercise.

            Incidentally, in the UK experimentation on fertilised human embryos is allowed by law, but THEY MUST BE DESTROYED at an early age. One wonders why.

    2. Sorry that handle is already taken. Silver badge

      Re: Do vat grown brains dream?

      I don't know.

      But if it does... What does a brain with no external sensory capability dream about?

    3. Hollerith 1

      Re: Do vat grown brains dream? @ Big John

      I am pro-abortion (or, as I call it, anti forced-pregnancy), and I first paused at reading of this, but realised that 'human' comes when the mind has developed enough to be able to have thoughts and feelings, and we don't actually know if even children at, say, eight months have thoughts and feelings, although their mind is working, in that there's some evidence that they can hear music in the womb and it is stored in their memories.

      It might be that this new 'grown brain' can (if it allowed to develop) help us establish exactly when a cluster of working cells is capable or holding and developing the sort of brain activity we would identify as human. This would be fraught with ethical problems, and I can see scientists stopping short.

      I wonder why you assume all people how, as I do, hold that a woman should be able to choose to abort her fetus are knee-jerk idiots and just noise. At least do us a courtesy by assuming that we've thought about it.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Do vat grown brains dream? @ Big John

        I did use the word "ardent" in my description. Most people (including myself) feel that abortion in the first trimester is acceptable. After that point the former "clump of cells" has changed into somthing uncomfortably like a human being. In the third trimester, abortion starts to get rather gruesome. Yet there are those who argue that these natural human feelings have no weight, and that the fetus has no rights until it passes out the birth canal. Halfway out isn't enough, there's still time for the mother to take that fetus's life away. Obama himself once voted to defend such partial-birth abortions in Illinois.

        Argue about rights all you want; It's still sickening to contemplate. Even worse, a large lucrative 'industry' has grown up around the practice. Worse still, this industry appears to be primarily aimed at minority women, judging by the abortion statistics. What's that all about?

      2. John Savard Silver badge

        Re: Do vat grown brains dream? @ Big John

        Part of the reason that there is a negative stereotype of the pro-choice side of the abortion debate is the nature of the arguments that they sometimes advance. For example, one common argument is that right and wrong are social creations rather than pre-existing absolutes like the laws of mathematics. The trouble with that line of argument is that it works just as well for Negro slavery and the Holocaust. Also, they sometimes try to argue that people are defined by their relationships rather than their intrinsic properties.

        On the other hand, we don't know for sure when the developing brain gains certain capabilities. Giving the benefit of the doubt to the fetus unconditionally, the common pro-life position, involves a lot of assumptions about human sexuality. And some in the pro-life camp are against forms of abortion that deal with embryos younger than 27 days - when not a single neuron has even differentiated from its precursor cells. Thinking is definitely not happening then.

        Many in the pro-life camp appear more concerned about sex than life; and many in the pro-choice camp act as though they find the legitimate pro-life line of argument unintelligible.

      3. g e

        Re: Do vat grown brains dream? @ Hollerith

        I assume you don't have any kids. Whilst I agree completely with your point, by 8 months you can clearly see a lot of human cognitive behaviour in your offspring plus personality. Language is already beginning to form, albeit at a rudimentary Neanderthal-type grunt for bikkies, shout for not-pleased, gurgle for pleasure kind of way.

        I'd actually say 2 months absolute maximum, based on experience, possibly even from 8 months in utero although you'd not be having meaningful (in your sense) communication with a human that small.

        1. dotdavid

          Re: Do vat grown brains dream? @ Hollerith

          "Whilst I agree completely with your point, by 8 months you can clearly see a lot of human cognitive behaviour in your offspring "

          I'm guessing the OP meant 8 months from conception rather than from birth

    4. deadcow
      Facepalm

      Re: Do vat grown brains dream?

      This thing isn't plugged into anything. It's no more of a conscious entity than a McDonalds Quarter Pounder is. There's no blood supply, no electrical signals - it's a lump of brain cells.

      1. DugEBug
        Facepalm

        Re: Do vat grown brains dream?

        Of course it is "plugged into" some things. You can't grow any living tissue without a supply of nutrients and oxygen. The way to do it is with a supply of blood that is somehow sustained via all the sensors, cleansing machines and the like. I suspect that maybe the skin donor is also the blood donor. The article leaves all of this to the imagination, unfortunately.

    5. JeffyPoooh
      Pint

      Re: Do vat grown brains dream?

      The endless ethical quandary begins when it suddenly blurts out, "Mommy!"

    6. Nick Ryan Silver badge

      Re: Do vat grown brains dream?

      I wasn't sure how to feel about this, and I read the article unlike some here and understand the difference between 5 week fetal and 5 week (or old) baby. It is getting a bit creepy. However a few things to remember that appear to be missed:

      This proto-brain was not grown from a human egg and sperm. It was grown from a single adult donor's cells. Consider it this way - if an adult agreed to donate some of their functioning brain cells for medical research would we consider this a problem? While different this is not so far removed from that.

  2. Mage Silver badge
    Devil

    Prescient.

    As long as they don't grow it for long enough to ask it questions?

    Disturbing.

  3. Ragequit

    Wakes up and crawls out from beneath his rock...

    I guess I haven't been paying much attention to news about genetics. I had no idea we were anywhere near this. It has so many potential applications. Though some of them are quite the nightmare sci-fi scenario. But for once I'll focus on the good. Medical research and the further research of Neuro Nets in computing? Yes, please.

    *Does his best not to think about brains in jars connected to supercomputers..*

  4. Christoph

    Incoming shitstorm in 3 ... 2 ... 1 ...

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Only In The USA!

    No stem cell research, no cloning research, but growing brains is ok!

    Can imagine DARPA rooting around in the Abortion Buckets for material for their next generation Drones.

    1. John Smith 19 Gold badge

      Re: Only In The USA!

      "No stem cell research, no cloning research, but growing brains is ok!"

      Indeed. Reading this I was astonished that this has escaped the attention of the SEL's of the US Right.

      Although I think I can explain DARPA's interest.

      If there was a sudden outbreak of say, people wanting to snack on other people's brains you'd want to study it, right?

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Only In The USA!

      This IS stem cell based research - but the "stem cells" are harmlessly taken from an adult rather than from a murdered baby. As it turns out, despite the hateful claptrap spewed by the likes of Christopher Reeve there never was a need for the latter as it's research based on pluriopotent cells from adults that has produced all the amazing useful breakthroughs.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Only In The USA!

        Stem cell research was NEVER banned in the U.S. It was only taxpayer funding of embryonic stem cells that was restricted, and then only for several years. But don't let mere facts get in the way of a good rant.

    3. Likkie

      Re: Only In The USA!

      OMG! here come the daleks!

  6. Mark 85 Silver badge

    Good be good, could be bad....

    I can understand the research aspect but there are ethics.. It's living and therefore does it think or exist in a blackness since there's no sensory inputs. However, DARPA taking an interest just doesn't seem to bode well... I hate to say it but with them interested, I'd destroy the brain and all my papers related to the research. Same if the Chinese, Russians, or any government agency for that matter took an interest in it.

    1. squigbobble

      Re: Good be good, could be bad....

      It won't develop properly without the appropriate sensory input, though the deleterious effects will be much greater on a brain that's grown past the foetal stage than one that's only a few weeks old.

      Also, this may have 99% of the cell types of a normal brain but how significant are the remaining 1%?

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Cat Videos

    And, the next thing you know, that brain will be posting cat videos to Facebook. :-(

    Anon Y. Mus

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Clever stuff

    Quite amazing, really.

    But I find it quite horrifying.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    If DARPA is interested

    You know it is so they can build a robot soldier with a human brain, like one of those those B movies shown on SciFi SyFy when they aren't showing a Sharknado sequel.

    1. Christoph

      Re: If DARPA is interested

      Or a Bolo

  10. Test Man

    The fact that they can grow a brain to the same age as foetuses that parents go for a scan to see really sits uneasy with me.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    This is just wrong

    Does this artifact have rights of any kind? You can bet that the people working on this would be just as happy to work on an extracted "human" brain.

    Allowing this sort of research and you allow any other human type experimentation and you can bet the people in control of this assume ownership of what they are playing with.

    The brain is the very seat of humanness so how is this not illegal experimentation on slaves?

    Take S Hawkins as an example would it be okay if they took his brain out of his broken body and then said he was property whilst they kept him alive agains his will?

    what if they rounded up up the physically disabled to harvest their brains for military or slaveduties?

    At what point is a collection of cells classed as having rights or protection of the law?

    Anyone who thinks the idea of a 12 year old brain being property agrees that a parent also owns their children and all that entails

    1. Mutton Jeff

      Re: This is just wrong

      Down the slippery slope, faster than Eddie the Eagle

    2. manarth

      Re: This is just wrong

      "the idea of a 12 year old brain being property"

      TFA: "until it gets to the equivalent of a 12-week-old human"

      12 *weeks*, not 12 years. And that's 12 weeks of foetal development, rather than a 12 week old child (47-52 weeks of foetal/post-conception development). Quite a difference.

      This isn't to say there aren't any ethical considerations, but comparisons to either a 12 year old or even a 12 week old child are not relevant to this discussion.

    3. Jonathan Richards 1 Silver badge
      Stop

      Re: This is just wrong

      You're right about it being wrong, at least until we know something about its possible consciousness. You wrote "12 year old brain", but the article says the plan is to maintain the brain until it is "the equivalent of a 12-week-old human". That would be bad enough, though. Anyone who has been around a baby of that age knows that it's just as conscious as an adult. I'm pretty sure that the plan must mean 12 weeks from conception, which isn't the same thing at all. Human age t=0 is at the point of birth, roughly 40 weeks after conception.

      1. Old Handle

        Re: This is just wrong

        It's somewhat confusing, since it's already 15 weeks old, but apparently grew slower than normal, being only as large as the brain of a 5-week-old fetus. So yeah, I think they only meant grow it to the size of a 12 weeks gestation fetal brain, but it did say "possibly longer" which leaves the door open for getting into creepy territory.

    4. King Jack
      Holmes

      Re: This is just wrong

      People always squirm at medical breakthroughs, until it starts to save lives. All those who think it is wrong should carry cards saying that they refuse medical help if involved in an accident. I'm sure the techniques and medicines were tested on living tissue at some point. They are not killing or harming anyone and knowledge will further medical science. No wonder we had the dark ages.

      1. James 51

        'They are not killing or harming anyone'

        That's the question though, if it's our brain that makes us human and this is a functioning human brain, is it human?

      2. DugEBug

        Re: This is just wrong

        I for one, would not mind having brand new kidneys - and I'd be willing to donate some skin cells to get it started. Have others researchers been trying to grow organs that don't have this ethical dilemma?

        1. Rob 44

          Re: This is just wrong

          Actually yes there is.

          Believe it or not, there is a man walking around today with a lab grown bladder.

          Its not much but its a start. The group that produced it are apparently now focusing on creating hearts. Imagine that, a perfect clone of your own ticker if you eat one or two many bacon sarnies.

  12. Camilla Smythe

    That does cause pause for thought.

    Perhaps I should write a 'living will' that specifically states that should I go slightly forgetful in my old age, or earlier, I will not accept any treatment that results from such experimentation and indeed prior to the event I would warn against it.

    I would rather 'you' suffer the last 'Terry Pratchett' years of my life watching me feed the dog cup cakes than let idiots recreate my brain and fiddle with it.

    I do apologise if this is the fifth time I have come out on this chilly night and offered you a blanket. I do not remember the first time... So I am not making this apology. I am just offering you a blanket.

    Tomorrow I will not remember any of this. I have already forgotten it. However thank you for your gracious declination of the offer when I asked again and thank you for making sure I ended up the right way around in bed when I finally tired of offering you blankets.

    I have no recollection as to how you wore me down.

    "Tea. Two Bags. Two Sugars. Milk."

    "Bacon & Eggs Coming up!"

  13. smartypants

    Get a grip

    It's not like this lump of tissue is having dreams of walking out the door and stroking a dog, is it?

    Who here remembers that horrid day when, after 9 months of being cosseted in the womb, you were squeezed violently through the birth canal to feel for the first time the pull of gravity, cold, hunger and fear?

    The answer is non of you. We are are the product of nurture. These proto-brains are no more human than my 5 month old finger was a human when in the womb.

    There are plenty of actual fully-developed people - rather than bits of tiny foetuses in a petri dish - who have all sorts of serious problems the people doing the research hope to help with. I hope their research helps to improve the lives of actual human beings in the future,

    1. Camilla Smythe

      Re: Get a grip

      These proto-brains are no more human than my 5 month old finger was a human when in the womb.

      So.. who is going to teach your proto-brane how to pick its arse and sniff if and what happens when your proto-brane discovers it does not have an arse or finger?

      Not wishing to be Chicken Little here and along those lines what happens when Kentucky Fried chicken get in on the act...

      It includes multiple cell types and genes, signaling circuitry, and even a retina.

      ... assuming they let it grow a nose.

      Maybe Google can get in on the act and come up with some kool targeted advertising.

      That retina thing causes me problems. Although I do not remember my hernia at birth or my Mothers worried face as I moaned about it I probably learned her face and her smiles using my retina.

      So I floated about for nine months in the land of Mumsnet sucking my thumb and then got puked out into the World.

      Now you abort me at five weeks and start poking me in the head with chymicals and electrils as part of my education.

      Fuck you very much. I'll just cook my last plate of meatballs, pasta, sauce and cheese before apologising to the cat, turning vegetarian and joining the rats protection league.

      Again... I would rather die as a happy vegetable than accept any cure that results from this type of research.

      1. Hollerith 1

        Re: Get a grip

        This little cluster of brain cells (99% of a full brain, the article says) was not taken from a fetus. There is no suggestion that they will get a five-week old unborn child and experiment on it.

      2. Pete4000uk

        Re: Get a grip

        Well, that's up to you.

        I would much rather get a new <bodypart> than suffer with some disability*

        I'm sure a lot of disabled people would like to have a fully functioning body.

        *no disrespect to the disabled

        1. squigbobble

          Re: Get a grip

          Bit difficult to do that with your brain, though.

    2. John H Woods Silver badge

      Re: Get a grip

      "Who here remembers that horrid day when, after 9 months of being cosseted in the womb, you were squeezed violently through the birth canal to feel for the first time the pull of gravity, cold, hunger and fear? The answer is non[e] of you. We are are the product of nurture. These proto-brains are no more human than my 5 month old finger was a human when in the womb." -- smartypants

      Without either agreeing or disagreeing with your sentiment, I feel obliged to point out that this method of classification would also make the brain of the average 2 year old a 'proto-brain'

    3. Schlimnitz
      Unhappy

      Re: Get a grip

      I hope you're not implying that suffering that you can't remember doesn't matter.

      Because that goes all kinds of bad places.

      1. smartypants

        Re: Get a grip

        "I hope you're not implying that suffering that you can't remember doesn't matter."

        No I'm not. What I'm saying is that there is no 'person' locked up in this tissue because what makes a person is *nurture*.

        Imagine for a moment you are a 10 week old foetus. What's that experience like?

        If it were the case that foetuses were upset at having almost no sensory input for their entire lives save for odd muffled sounds and the feeling of being knocked around when mum is doing her prenatal pilates, then we would all be born psychotics. Who here can survive sensory deprivation on that scale for a month, let alone your entire life up to 9 months?

        The screaming that a baby does when born is not a result of the relief of 9 months of sensory-deprivation. Quite the opposite. Applying our experience of ourselves as developed humans to a tiny piece of gristle that the potential to be a part of a human is frankly nuts.

  14. nilfs2
    Joke

    Zombie food!!

    This might be the answer when the zombie apocalypse happens, brain farms!!

  15. batfastad
    Coat

    Mental!

    Sorry.

  16. x 7

    simply unethical. Nothing else to say

    1. batfastad

      Says who?

  17. John Tserkezis

    Henry Frankenstein: Look! It's moving. It's alive. It's alive... It's alive, it's moving, it's alive, it's alive, it's alive, it's alive, IT'S ALIVE!

    Victor Moritz: Henry - In the name of God!

    Henry Frankenstein: Oh, in the name of God! Now I know what it feels like to be God!

    .

    Says it all really.

  18. illiad

    well, it looks like the usual posters have less brain power/ reading ability that the brain these scientists have made...

    GET real, guys.. they *could* have just picked up what they needed in the bins behind any legal abortion clinic!!!

  19. Tom Maddox Silver badge
    Trollface

    It's ALIVE and ROAMING FREE!

    Apparently it's already figured out how to post on the Internet and indeed in this forum, under a number of different alts.

    1. Chozo

      Re: It's ALIVE and ROAMING FREE!

      It's true!

      http://gammillustrations.bizland.com/monsterkid7/mk7images/fiend.jpg

  20. Captain DaFt

    -The brain is at the same stage of development as a five-week-old fetus and contains 99 per cent of the same cells that you'd find in an in-utero equivalent.-

    Plus totally sensory deprived. Still probably smarter than most politicians.

  21. phil dude
    Thumb Up

    revolution...

    To non-scientists, this has not been peer reviewed yet.

    To non-biologists, this is a potential revolution.

    The problem with the folks who base their opinons on dogma and not the evidence of the real world, is that it often creates a conflict. The key point about the article is that the brain sprouts a spinal chord and a retina. From comparisons with our lab friend C.Elegans this strong suggests the conserved metabolic development of the human genome is reproducible from a non-fetal stem cell.(The comparison is because C.Elegans always has the same number of cells, hence, the cell fate is known for each one. In Humans we use the same logic by identify regions of known patholgy e.g. spinal chord, retina).

    The question is , if we take a bit of the retina and implant it in a blind person, do they grow a new one?

    How about someone with a neurogenerative disease, simply a cell infusion? Spinal chord, inject proto-differentiated cells?

    This is an extremely important discovery, pending peer review, depending on:

    a) what chemicals they had to use to maintain the cell growth

    b) if the development can be shown to be "normal" (I prefer the term functionally differentiated)

    c) If it can be repeated with stems cells derived from other adults

    P.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: revolution...

      My first thought was if they can grow a brain, can they regenerate brain tissue, can they repair spinal injuries, could they grow a new pancreas?

      Right now the biggest drug cost on the NHS is insulin, if we can repair/replace the pancreas we can eliminate the need for insulin and save a fortune.

      We currently have to wait for someone to die to get donor organs, if they can grow a brain, they surely can grow other organs...

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Wonder whether Christian doctrine will deem it to have a soul?

    The religiously-inspired anti-abortion segment sometimes argue that a soul is implanted (somehow) at the moment of conception, making all forms of subsequent termination such as morning-after pills morally equivalent to murder. What of this "brain" - does it have a soul? If so when was it incarnated? And must it be fed forever like a dependent child?

    1. phil dude
      Boffin

      Re: Wonder whether Christian doctrine will deem it to have a soul?

      One of the problems of dogmatic fantasy based definitions to the beginning of life, is that is never stops. Ever.

      Every single living being (well certainly the ones that have the vote!) have an unbroken ancestry going back to the first twitch of RNA (probable, not proved) that occurred in some primordial soup (The Dr Who version in "City of Death" will suffice for imagery, although the time coordinates mentioned were wrong by an order of magnitude. We can write this off as "artistic license"...).

      If there is a soul perhaps it is the DNA molecule, in which case, every living thing has one...

      Think about that, next time you use anti-microbial soap...

      P.

  23. RichardB

    The Island?

    Pretty sure they made a film about this a few years ago...

  24. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    You can buy viable, aborted baby parts from Planned Parenthood!

    Even the complete head!

  25. hidaraf
    Terminator

    Futures, futures..

    On the one hand, there maybe starts The Culture

    On the other hand, The Ship who Sang, and/or Soldier Blue shows a terrible possibility.

    On the Gripping Hand, there comes to mind a number of "futures", from Kree's Supreme Intelligence to "I will Fear No Evil"

    Here There Be Dragons.

    I don´t think there is something, be it One or Many (the Pope or the UN) able, at this time, to make an intelligent (not even ethical) decision.

    Gives food for thought.

    Luckily, I won´t be here by then. I hope.

  26. Mystic Megabyte
    Stop

    Dave, my mind is going

    It would interesting to know if the person who donated the skin cells feels their mind going as the brain grows. Perhaps it would begin to manifest as a feeling that they have a sibling that they have never met before. I'm not sure of the ethics of this experiment but it does make me feel uncomfortable so maybe it is wrong.

  27. Dr. G. Freeman
    Happy

    A five-week old fetus ?

    Why didn't they start with something simpler,like my boss ?

  28. Morteus
    WTF?

    Is it. or isn't it?

    Things like this are always going to be highly emotive simply because our first thought is "it's human" followed by "it's one of us". But as far as we are able to scientifically ascertain, it isn't in the strictest sense. The day-to-day subconscious that de-humanises many things and therefore makes them easier to digest or ignore, stubs it's toe on situations like this. I've thinking about it on and off for hours, and I'm still not comfortable with it.

    1. Trollslayer

      Re: Is it. or isn't it?

      It is a good thing that we are uncomfortable about it, that will help maintain balance.

  29. Richard Wharram

    Too bad it won't live...

    ...but then again, who does.

    To paraphrase Gaff.

    As the brain has been created from cells in the Soma rather then the Germ-line then it will have the equivalent genetic damage of a person of the age of the cell donor. It's already aged.

  30. Schlimnitz

    Not alive though.

    I hope

  31. wankeler

    Let's be sensible

    Yes, it's an astonishing piece of work if as presented here with great positive possibilities. Also of course some horrible ones if heads in unethical directions.

    I understand the knee-jerk disgust that some people express, but it doesn't seem to have any logical foundation to me. There is clearly a scale here from original single neurone to something like a toddlers brain. Experiment on and mangle a single cell - most people fine. Toddlers brain - most people not I hope. Somewhere along the spectrum is the point when it becomes unacceptable, doubtless after crossing a fairly large grey area due to lack of knowledge.

    Is a newborn a "conscious person"? I don't think anyone really knows. Quite possibly not yet. Would I be happy therefore for them to be mistreated / experimented on / killed? No way.

    So what point? That is the key question. As you work your way back I suspect that what we have, whilst with the potential to be a human, is more like an animal in capabilities and probably less aware than a born animal. So perhaps right to exist becomes less of an issue, but still would't want whatever it was to suffer pain.

    7 weeks and the size they are talking about kind of feels like it should be OK, 12 weeks maybe, 20 week very probably not.

    On a broader perspective the same thing goes for animal brains, maybe different parameters.

    Same arguments for abortion in my mind and I've never bought in to the the idea that the unborn child is just part of the mother and she has total rights over it. At some point it should have independent rights, it's just not clear where exactly.

    And yes, eventually to suitably sized / capable simulations of brains. It's the software that matters, not the hardware, though I kind of understand the attachment of the software to its own hardware :-)

  32. Trollslayer

    Not a baby

    Please read carefully, this is about the equivalent age of a foetus so the five weeks mentioned is one quarter of the current abortion limit.

    I think one or two people may have misread this.

    A very good article that raises a complex issue with a lot of very good replies.

    Like others I have mixed feelings about the subject. Massive potential but requires very good safeguards.

    1. Richard Wharram

      Re: Not a baby

      The abortion limit is 24 weeks in the UK and with good reason. Many abnormalities are only detected at the 20-week scan stage and are not apparent before then. These could mean that the foetus has no chance of survival and may endanger the life of the mother.

      Almost all abortions after 20 weeks fall into categories like this. Women don't suddenly decide they don't want a baby half-way in (or if they do they'd get counselling.) The idea that the 24 week limit is there for women who haven't got round to having an abortion yet because they were too busy partying in Ibiza to be bothered is the sort of thing anti-abortion groups would like you to think.

  33. Sgt_Oddball Silver badge

    Makes you wonder.

    If we can grow a brain in a jar (for want of a better term) would we be able to start mapping synaptic pathways?

    If so, while that's going on would it not make sense to induce a coma before waking the backup/clone/new being with handpicked memories.

    Yes the science right now is creepy, unnerving and ethically questionable but it leaves alot of possibilities open.

    Imagine sending a space craft with hundreds of templates ready to go. Turn up at star system and if suitable recreate the crew from scratch. None of that messy mass freezing/awkward relativistic issues/generational ships.

    And that's just for starters.

    1. Richard Wharram

      Brain in a jar

      Anne Uumellmahaye?

    2. phil dude
      Coat

      Re: Makes you wonder.

      @Sgt_Oddball: Try pointing to any period in history that science was safe, reassuring and ethically unquestionable.

      Yeah, no period springs to mind!

      We live in amazing times...

      P.

  34. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    don't get it.

    don't get why you would necessarily grow a human brain. considering all the moral and ethical questions that would raise. i fall on the unethical, immoral side. Why not a heart, liver, kidney, nerve fibers for spinal injuries, panaceas for diabetics, etc... that could be grown artificially using donor cells for the recipient, to use for transplants that would be of great benefit as well with out the moral and ethical questions.

    I don't doubt the need for research, related to the brain injuries or certain disorders, just highly doubt this will reveal anything of use at least from a autism stand point. would think you would need a far more developed brain.

  35. rainjay

    Astonishing technical breakthrough

    And an ethical minefield, to put it mildly. The scientists involved sidestepped the dilemma of using fetal cells by using adult-derived IPSC but the whole idea makes me slightly queasy. Even if I use my own cells to make a brain, does that brain have a separate right to existence and does it warrant different treatment than a mere cloned body part?

    On the tech side, imagine integrating this brain with electronic circuitry from the moment of cell differentiation. You'd have a real neural network in a bottle... To make things slightly less nightmarish, you could use mouse or lobster brains instead.

  36. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    For early research

    The 'oh no, think of the ethics' argument is really to easy to make without thinking too closely. I feel it is a big mistake to shut down this area of research too soon, even if it becomes an activity that is more regulated in the future. Our understanding of the brain and its development is amazingly immature at the moment, and any reasonably benign method of experimenting with the processes may allow massive advances. Is this preferable to animal experimentation? Many times over - and I'm happy enough with monkeys being used where its justified. Assume this bunch of cells became self-aware, I would hope it would be allowed to die in peace.

  37. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Some would argue that new-borns are not sentient

    When does the cortex start arranging itself? Long after birth, I thought.

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