- Awareness in the fields of IT, Space, Computers, robotics, nano-technology, bio-technology and issues relating to intellectual property rights.
What to study?
For Prelims: What are Organoids? Features.
For Mains: Applications and ethical concerns.
Context: We’ve heard a lot in the last few years about organoids, the so-called “brains in a dish” created in labs by neuroscientists.
However, experts have expressed concerns over growing mini-brains or organoids in the laboratory that can perceive or feel things.
Why worry about this?
In some cases, scientists have already transplanted such lab-grown brain organoid to adult animals.
- The transplanted organoid had integrated with the animal brain, grown new neuronal connections and responded to light.
- Similarly, lung organoid transplanted into mice was able to form branching airways and early alveolar structures.
These are seen as a step towards potential “humanisation” of host animals.
What is an organoid?
Organoids are a group of cells grown in laboratories into three-dimensional, miniature structures that mimic the cell arrangement of a fully-grown organ.
- They are tiny (typically the size of a pea) organ-like structures that do not achieve all the functional maturity of human organs but often resemble the early stages of a developing tissue.
- Most organoids contain only a subset of all the cells seen in a real organ, but lack blood vessels to make them fully functional.
How are organoids grown in the laboratory?
Grown in the lab using stem cells that can become any of the specialised cells seen in the human body, or stem cells taken from the organ or adults cells that have been induced to behave like stem cells, scientifically called induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSC).
- Stem cells are provided with nutrients and other specific molecules to grow and become cells resembling a specific organ.
- The growing cells are capable of self-organising into cellular structures of a specific organ and can partly replicate complex functions of mature organs — physiological processes to regeneration and being in a diseased state.
- Organoids of the brain, small intestine, kidney, heart, stomach, eyes, liver, pancreas, prostate, salivary glands, and inner ear to name a few have already been developed in the laboratory.
- Organoids offer new opportunities to studying proteins and genes that are critical for the development of an organ. This helps in knowing how a mutation in a specific gene causes a disease or disorder.
- For example, Researchers have used brain organoids to study how the Zika virus affects brain development in the embryo.
- Since the organoids closely resemble mature tissues, it opens up new vistas. These include studying the complex arrangements of cells in three-dimension and their function in detail, and understanding how cells assemble into organs.
- Organoids can be used to study the safety and efficacy of new drugs and also test the response of tissues to existing medicines.
- Organoids will bring precision medicine closer to reality by developing patient-specific treatment strategies by studying which drugs the patient is most sensitive to.
What are the ethical challenges of growing organoids?
Scientists argue that organoids do not have sensory inputs and sensory connections from the brain are limited. Isolated regions of the brain cannot communicate with other brain regions or generate motor signals. Thus, the possibility of consciousness or other higher-order perceptive properties [such as the ability to feel distress] emerging seems extremely remote.
Sources: the Hindu.