, Volume 55, Issue 2, pp 161–185 | Cite as

Opening the Regulatory Black Box of Clinical Cancer Research: Transnational Expertise Networks and “Disruptive” Technologies

  • Alberto Cambrosio
  • Pascale Bourret
  • Peter Keating
  • Nicole Nelson


Building on previous work on “regulatory objectivity,” the paper examines recent translational research and cancer genomics to explore the bundle of scientific and regulatory activities that generate and manage the platforms at the core of clinical trials, the “gold standard” of clinical research and evidence-based medicine. In particular, the paper explores the activities of a chain of mediators within a seamless regulatory web characterized by the interaction of endogenous and hybrid regulatory activities that are neither hierarchical nor linear. We contend that a full understanding of the dynamics of regulation in the biomedical domain ought to consider this chain of mediations; that their analysis necessitates understanding the content of the practices they regulate; and that in addition to examining the interactions between different regulatory modalities, we need to pay attention to their development insofar as regulation, far from being mere routine, leads to the emergence of novelty by coproducing the entities it regulates. These activities include not only setting out the conditions that must be respected in order to produce reliable test results, but also the conditions that define the relations (within a clinical context) between the different components of diagnosis as well as the consequences of such relations on clinical judgment. This is why we cannot treat organizational practices as distinct from the content of bio-clinical activities.


Oncology Clinical cancer research Biomedical regulation Transnational expertise networks Cancer pathology Biomarkers 



An earlier version of this paper was presented at the International Conference “Towards personalized medicine? Biomarkers between health care practices and imagined futures” at the University of Vienna (June 28–29, 2012). We would like to thank the organizers, Ingrid Metzler and the late Herbert Gottweis, for their kind invitation. We would also like to thank the clinicians and researchers who kindly accepted to be interviewed, Patrick Castel who single-handedly introduced us to the sociology of organizations, and Étienne Vignola-Gagné for his thoughtful comments on the present version, Research for this paper was made possible by grants from the Canadian Institutes for Health Research (MOP-93553), the Fonds de recherche du Québec Société et culture (SE-164195), and the French National Cancer Institute (INCa) (0610/3D1418/SHS08).


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Alberto Cambrosio
    • 1
  • Pascale Bourret
    • 2
  • Peter Keating
    • 3
  • Nicole Nelson
    • 4
  1. 1.Department of Social Studies of MedicineMcGill UniversityMontrealCanada
  2. 2.Aix Marseille Univ, INSERM, IRD, SESSTIMMarseilleFrance
  3. 3.Department of HistoryUniversité du Québec à MontréalMontrealCanada
  4. 4.Department of HistoryUniversity of Wisconsin-MadisonMadisonUSA

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