Advances in stem cell research and genomics have made it possible to grow organoids, self-assembling 3-D structures. Organoids closely resemble the architecture and function of real organs. However, because the technology is still so novel, the ethics surrounding them has not yet been fully explored. Boers et al. (2016) discuss the ethics surrounding organoids and their potential for biobanking.1
Researchers use several types of stem cells to grow organoids, and can grow organs such as gut, kidney, pancreas, liver, brain and retina. Because organoids are grown from human tissues, they can be used for precision and regenerative medicine, and can be stored in biobanks for future use. However, stem cell research has already sparked fierce ethical debate about consent, ownership, commercialization, intellectual property rights and safety.
Organoid biobanking is a different type of biobanking because, in many instances, its applications are clinical in the “here and now,” with the prospect of making a difference to donor treatment outcomes. Consequently, the authors highlight a number of areas in which different ethical considerations come into play regarding organoids. First, there is significant commercial interest in organoids because of their applications in precision medicine and pharmaceutical development. Second, they query the type of consent that may be required. In organoid technology, de-identification is less desirable because it decreases the scientific and clinical value. Furthermore, organoid biobanking lends itself better to consent procedures such as broad consent, tiered consent and dynamic consent.
In conclusion, Boers et al. suggest that the first step in organoid biobanking is to glean the opinions of of all stakeholders, while acknowledging that commercialization and globalization are likely to be significant. Rather than seeing these as innately bad, they suggest that sharing also results in significant benefits to society and the individual. The key is to implement appropriate policies and procedures for organoid biobanking.
1. Boers, S.N., et al. (2016) “Organoid biobanking: Identifying the ethics: Organoids revive old and raise new ethical challenges for basic research and therapeutic use,” EMBO Reports, 17(7) (pp. 938–941), doi: 10.15252/embr.201642613.