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It’s difficult and dangerous for scientists to study how living human tissue responds to viruses, medications, or other stimuli: Brain or heart tissue can’t be removed from a living person. As an alternative, scientists are creating organoids— tiny three-dimensional, multicellular clusters grown from human stem cells that resemble complex tissues like those of major organs. One of the fastest-moving areas is brain research. Since 2008, when researchers created the first cerebral organoids to provide more understanding of brain functions, cerebral organoids have been used in research on autism and on diseases such as the Zika virus. Researchers at Stanford University and the Chan Zuckerberg Biohub created human forebrain organoids (the forebrain is the part of the brain responsible for thinking, perceiving, and evaluating our surroundings). There are two current schools of thought on how to create organoids: Grow them from human tissue, or create animals with human-derived neurons in their bodies. Research is underway elsewhere that would transplant bits of human brain organoids into rats, which raises both complex ethical concerns and, perhaps, fears of super rats that process information as well as humans do. Organoids aren’t conscious (yet), and as experimentation progresses, scientists must develop ethical standards.

Organoids

KEY TRENDS

Synthetic Biological Engineering