Bioethics: Promises and problems with brain organoids

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Organoids are three-dimensional biological structures, derived in vitro from pluripotent stem cells or somatic cells, that reproduce in miniature the histology and function of organs of the body [see previous post on organoids]. Organoids represent one of the great hopes of biomedicine in both research and regenerative medicine. There are organoids referable to the heart, kidney, intestine and other organs, including the brain. Brain or cerebral organoids are self-assembled three-dimensional structures consisting of hundreds of thousands to millions of cells that resemble the cellular and transcriptional organisation and epigenetic imprinting of a developing human brain. Compared to other organoids, they present very special potentials and problems to which we devote this paper.

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The last and most recent issue posed by brain organoids is the integration between brain organoids and artificial intelligence to give what has been called organoid intelligence.

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In this fascinating horizon, the question of the possibility of self-consciousness of a brain organoid is intertwined with the question of the possibility of artificial intelligence to develop forms of consciousness comparable to the human one. It is not far-fetched to hypothesise that the interaction between the complex structure of the neural networks of the brain organoid and the amount of data stored and processed by an artificial intelligence operating according to the neural network model will lead to a reciprocal enhancement and amplification to the point of resulting in surprising and unprecedented forms of self-awareness.

Fr Maurizio Pietro Faggioni, ofm

The full text of the article, in Italian with bibliographical references, is available on the Alphonsian Academy’s website.