, Volume 13, Issue 2, pp 349–367 | Cite as

Treating pigs: Balancing standardisation and individual treatments in translational neonatology research

  • Mie S. DamEmail author
  • Mette N. Svendsen
Original Article


This paper explores how animal modelling is negotiated and practised in the field of translational neonatology research in Denmark. Based on ethnography from a biomedical research centre, NEOMUNE, in which veterinary and medical scientists worked on developing a ‘preterm pig brain model’, we examine how they strived to balance traditional scientific norms of standardisation against clinical researchers’ requests for clinical care in the modelling practice. We develop the notion of ‘patientising’ to capture how the research piglets are made to model not only the biological consequences of prematurity, but also the suffering of the human patient entitled to individual care. Based on this ethnographic fieldwork we argue that the demand for clinical relevance in translational research highlights the animal laboratory as also being a “moral laboratory” (Mattingly, 2014). In seeking to align research piglets and human infants, the researchers engage closely interdependent scientific and moral uncertainties as they work out the proper relations between the suffering of the research animal and the health of the human infant.


translational research animal models neonatology multispecies-ethnography suffering moral reasoning 



First we want to thank the researchers and animal technicians in NEOMUNE research centre for welcoming and including us in their daily work. We thank them for generously taking the time to engage in conversations and interviews and for commenting on our work. We are grateful to Barbara Prainsack and Carrie Friese for their valuable comments and suggestions to earlier versions of this article. Many thanks go to the Strategic Research Council for financial support. A final thank you goes to Laura E. Navne, Iben M. Gjødsbøl and Lene Koch for continuous inspiration and support. The authors do not have any competing intellectual or financial interests in the research detailed in the manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Macmillan Publishers Ltd 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Public Health, Centre for Medical Science and Technology StudiesUniversity of CopenhagenCopenhagenDenmark
  2. 2.Department of Public Health, Centre for Medical Science and Technology StudiesUniversity of CopenhagenCopenhagenDenmark

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