This page assembles the sections of the Guidelines that specifically address research involving organoids. Other sections of the Guidelines may be relevant to such research (e.g., Section 2.3 Procurement and Informed Consent of Human Biological Materials).
2.2.1 Category 1
2.2.1A: Category 1A. Research determined to be exempt from a specialized scientific and ethics oversight process after being assessed by the appropriate existing mandates and committees for laboratory research. Category 1A research includes the following activities:
- Research on stem cell culture systems that model specific stages of development or specific anatomic structures rather than the continuous development of an intact embryo or fetus. These would include but are not restricted to models of amnion formation, neural tube development, development of primordial germ cells, placental structures, 2D or 3D models of gastrulation or post-gastrulation events, and in vitro stem cell-derived organoids in culture that recapitulate most aspects of organ function, but not those that fall under subsequent categories.
At this time, there is no biological evidence to suggest any issues of concern, such as consciousness or pain perception with organoids corresponding to CNS tissues, that would warrant review through the specialized oversight process. However, researchers should be aware of any ethical issues that may arise in the future as organoid models become more complex through long-term maturation or through the assembly of multiple organoids (Hyun et al. 2020).
Public Representation of Science
Recommendation 4.1: The stem cell research community should promote accurate, current, balanced, and responsive public representations of stem cell research.
The high level of public and media interest in the field provides stem cell scientists with ample opportunities to communicate their findings through a variety of popular and social media channels. The research community is encouraged to responsibly engage interactively with the public through outreach and communications and by providing opportunities for public comment and feedback on scientific advances.
While such opportunities may allow scientists to gain recognition and understanding for their work among non-specialists, they also have the potential to fuel inaccurate public perceptions about the current state of scientific progress, potential for application, and associated risks and uncertainties (Kamenova and Caulfield, 2015). Scientists, clinicians, bioethicists, science communications professionals at academic and research institutions, and industry spokespersons should strive to ensure that benefits, risks, and uncertainties of stem cell science are not understated, misrepresented or overstated (see Recommendation 18.104.22.168). Additionally, due to public interest and concern in the ethics of human pluripotent stem cell research, and in order to ensure complete transparency of research and translational activities, the origin of stem cell materials should be clearly specified in all communications.
Care should be exercised throughout the science communication process, including in the promotion of research and translation activities, as well as in the presentation of scientific results, the use of social media, and in any communication with print and broadcast media. Particular caution should be exercised when preparing press releases and other types of promotional material. Researchers should make efforts to seek timely corrections of inaccurate or misleading public representations of research projects, achievements, or goals. Scientists should also be particularly careful about disclosing research findings that have not passed peer review, as premature reporting can undermine public confidence if findings are subsequently disproven. For example, if researchers post online preprints that have not been peer-reviewed, readers should be informed of the preliminary nature of such manuscripts.
Researchers must unintentionally avoid and correct inaccurate misconceptions in any communications regarding chimeras, genome editing, and other issues with a long history in the public imagination. While organoids, chimeras, embryo models, and other stem cell-based models are useful research tools offering possibilities for further scientific progress, limitations on the current state of scientific knowledge and regulatory constraints must be clearly explained in any communications with the public or media. Suggestions that any of the current in vitro models can recapitulate an intact embryo, human sentience or integrated brain function are unfounded overstatements that should be avoided and contradicted with more precise characterizations of current understanding. This is particularly relevant to brain organoids and human-animal chimeras, where any statements implying human cognitive abilities, human consciousness or self-awareness, as well as phrases or graphical representations suggesting human-like cognitive abilities risks misleading the public and sowing doubts about the legitimate nature of such research. Likewise, forward-looking statements on inherently uncertain developments, such as predictions on time required until clinical application, the likelihood of product approval, or speculation on the potential economic impact of currently unrealized technologies, must be accurate, circumspect, and restrained.
The stem cell community should work closely with communications professionals at their institution to create information resources that are easy to understand without oversimplifying, and that do not underplay risks and uncertainties or exaggerate potential benefits. Similarly, research-sponsoring institutions and communications professionals have a responsibility to ensure that any informational materials referring to research achievements adhere to these principles. Additionally, the scientists in charge of the research findings that are featured in informational materials should review and agree to the content prior to release. For potentially sensitive or high-profile cases, it is advisable to seek additional comments from independent experts to ensure objectivity and balance, place research in context of existing body of evidence, and help identify study limitations and alternative interpretations of key findings.