The Nuffield Council on Bioethics (NCOB) has published a policy briefing note identifying key ethical considerations raised by neural organoid research and areas where further ethical guidance, policy and regulatory decisions could be needed. We now intend to facilitate further discussions with policy makers, scientists, ethicists, and publics to shed more light on the most pressing challenges in this area of research and what is needed to tackle them.

Neural organoids are small, lab-grown structures, made from human stem cells. They are used to model different aspects of the developing brain and could have important applications in the future, improving our understanding of a range of brain conditions and treatment options.

Our new policy briefing note offers a balanced and evidence-based indication of where ethical challenges need to be explored and addressed at pace with those involved in shaping the future of this research.

We believe there is benefit in exploring the ethical and legal implications of neural organoids further. Issues could include changes in moral status as research progresses (for example, where the organoids could be considered to have developed sentience); gaining informed consent for research; and proportionate regulation.

These findings are the first from our Mind and Brain priority area, which we launched as part of our new strategy, 'Making ethics matter'.

We intend to facilitate further discussions around the important issues identified in our briefing with policymakers, scientists, regulators and all those involved in making decisions around neural organoid research. Our aim is to provide key decision makers working in this area with the recommendations and tools they need to navigate this rapidly evolving field of scientific research.

Danielle Hamm, Director of the Nuffield Council on Bioethics, said:

Development of neural organoid research is moving at pace. We will only be able to ensure appropriate guidance and regulation if ethical considerations are adequately taken into account.

We will now facilitate further discussions with scientists, policymakers, ethicists and others to explore these areas further and determine the priorities and potential solutions to the challenges arising in this advancing field of research.”