Need a new brain? Why not grow your own?

Well, maybe not quite yet. But work is underway.

In Austria, researchers took both embryonic stem cells (i.e. from human embryos) and adult skin cells, then did some "lab magic" and in about a month the cells grew and self-orgaized into what the researchers termed "brain-like organoids" 3-4mm in size that showed "neural activity".  

Think of it!  A few flakes of skin can become the startings of a human brain. Now that's not to say that these litle bits had consciousness, that's many more steps ahead.

They have survived a year (as of when the article went to publication in the journal Nature,) but have not grown any larger, apparently because at this point there is no blood supply in. (But other research in other labs is focusing on generating bio-artificial  blood vessels.)

This work was reported on in  Britain's New Scientist , BBC News , Washington Post via Reuters , Siongularity Hub  and others .

What about the ethical issues of growing even a tiny  human brain?  The researchers are aware of the issue, and the Austrian team does not want to see larger human brain specimens grown now, as that would be "undesirable."

Gary Marcus, in a New Yorker article, looks at this same research, though taking a much longer look at the implications  of where this kind of work may lead decades or a half-century from now.

 "But we’ll also need to confront immense ethical quandaries. What rights does synthetic brain tissue have? Should a 3-D-printed brain have the right to vote? To an education? To terminate its own life? (Or to not be terminated?) For now, these questions are still just another round of thought experiments. But it’s more likely than ever that such thoughts might some day be held by just another brain in a jar."

Beyond all that, there's still one other big issue: even if we can "grow"  a complete human brain, where is the mind?   That is the biggie we tackle in  my technothriller, A REMEDY FOR DEATH --Playing God with Body, Soul, and Biotech,  . . . though suggesting an approach other than bio-science.

"Scientists enhance intelligence of mice with human brain cells" -- follow-up

 A post here last week --"Mice given human brain cells become smarter"  linked to a piece in Discover Magazine.

Here's a more extended account of what seems to be the same research.  (I say probably, as it is not clear from the Discover item where the work took place.)

In the work reported in the IEET (Institute for Ethtics and Emerging Technologies), written by George Dworsky    Dworsky IEET report, he writes,

"To conduct the experiment, the scientists created human chimeric mice — mice that were endowed with human glial cells.

("Chimera" --there's that word again, one we're going to be hearing much more of as science moves on.   A chimera, in this context, is a blend of  human with animals of some kind or another, to date mostly chimps and mice.)

"We did this by using a narrow glass micropipette to inject 100,000 human glial progenitor cells into each hemisphere of the developing mouse forebrain," said Goldman. This resulted in the widespread integration of human glia into their brain. Once the mice reached adulthood, a large proportion of their forebrain glia were essentially human.

May I intervene here to (modestly) point out that much the same was done by the fictional neurosurgeon/researcher in my technothriller A REMEDY FOR DEATH in his work with Chimp Donnie?

Back to IEET:

"To mitigate any ethical concerns, Goldman told io9 that the grafts were delivered into postnatal animals, they were of cells that could not be transmitted to offspring, and they did not involve neuronal replacement."

In other words, they made sure that (a) these "ensmartened" mice weren't going to pass on to their babies, and (b) the implanted human cells were not from an aborted fetus, but rather "from human skin cells reprogrammed into induced pluripotential cells." 

Which implies that human skin cells can be reprogrammed into brain cells.  Hmm, does that mean that when you, as the saying goes, "put your foot in your mouth" you are ultimately adding foot cells to augment the brain-power you just failed to demonstrate by what you said? I wonder.