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Summary: Scientists have been able to produce structures that resemble tiny fetal brains which include regions such as parts of the cortex, hippocampus, and retinas. Induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS cells) are adult cells that can be reprogrammed to behave as embryonic cells. iPS cells were placed in a gel scaffold and provided with a mixture of nutrients scientists believe are essential for brain development. The cells self-organized into tiny organoids that looked like the brain (minus the cerebellum, a part of the brain that controls balance, which is usually present in later stages of brain development). These brains, though not conscious, did in fact show activity. So far, the brains have already contributed to clinical research by finding the cause of a human condition called microcephaly in which the fetal brain does not reach full size. Scientists noted that the time given to brain cells to multiply was decreased because of a lack of a protein called CDK5RAP2 in those with the condition.

Think About:

1. How will these brains aid in clinical research?
2. Will scientists ever be able to create conscious brains? If so, how ethical would it be?
3. How does this fit within the arguments for and against stem cell research?

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Photo: cross-section of the brain in action –