In the latest edition of the professional journal Science, Jü rgen Knoblich, a leading expert on stem cells and deputy director of the IMBA (Institute for Molecular Biotechnology of the Austrian Academy associated with Sciences), together with international experts, presents a first ethical guide for research into human organ models. In the post, he also argues for critical and responsible wedding with the new technology.

Organ versions, which are cultivated in the laboratory from human stem tissues and grow into living tissue, are one of the most important technological breakthroughs of recent years. Scientists, patients and the wider community have high hopes for this emerging field of analysis, as so-called “organoids” have a huge potential in terms of research plus modern medicine. In-vitro organ models allow complex body organ development studies and pathogenetic analyses to be carried out straight in human tissue. New substances and therapies could be tested on human material much more quickly using this technologies. Regenerative medical practice could conceivably cultivate the required cells in the laboratory from the cells of a patient and, reduce dependency on organ donations. The use of organoids could also considerably reduce the need for animal experiments, although biologists believe these types of cannot be completely eliminated in the foreseeable future.

Organoids — high hopes and bioethical dilemmas

From an ethical perspective, this new technology boosts a whole range of issues. These include important caveats in relation to the usage of human embryonic stem cells or the application of gene treatments to prevent or treat diseases. Jü rgen Knoblich thinks that “the development of organoids is unexplored scientific place. As a researcher, I am fascinated by the huge potential of the technology. However , I also believe it’s my job in order to actively promote dialogue around responsible research and to employ the wider public in the discussion. ” In 2013, the stem cell specialist made scientific headlines globally with his laboratory-cultivated brain models. In the latest policy declaration issued in collaboration with the immunologist and geneticist Hans Clevers and the bioethicist and Member of the Dutch Parliament, Annelien Bredenoord, the researchers also examined for the first time the most crucial ethical dimensions of organoid research. According to Knoblich, “we hope that our work has created a solid foundation for the institution of framework conditions for responsible engagement with this new-technology. ”

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