, Volume 13, Issue 3, pp 623–639 | Cite as

From people with dementia to people with data: Participation and value in Alzheimer’s disease research

  • Richard Milne
Original Article


This paper examines the dynamic relationship between data, participation and value through an analysis of developments in Alzheimer’s disease research. Alzheimer’s disease has risen rapidly up national and international policy agendas, particularly in Europe and North America. Research funding and initiatives have proliferated, many of which emphasise the potential value associated with existing data sources. The paper argues that the potential of these initiatives lies not only in realising the value of data through circulation, exchange and recombination, but also in restructuring of the relations of data production and use, notably through the extension and intensification of research participation. As Alzheimer’s research focuses away from clinical settings and symptomatic ‘people with dementia’, participants in existing research studies are reimagined as potential participants in future research studies, as ‘people with data’. Building on analyses of the role of clinical labour in the production of biovalue, the paper argues that reworked relations of data reuse and reproduction suggest the ongoing and repeated attachments between data and bodies involved in the production of value. It concludes that this raises questions related to the study of research participation and requires revisiting discussions about the appropriate representation of research participant interests.


data participation labour value Alzheimer’s disease 



I am grateful to the reviewers for their incisive and productive comments on this paper and to Shirlene Badger, Sally Atkinson and Carol Brayne for discussions and comments on previous drafts. Participants in the Brocher Foundation symposium on the ethical and social implications of Alzheimer’s disease research, and the Wellcome Trust What is Big Health Data Good For? workshop also provided useful comments and suggestions. Research contributing to this paper was funded by the Evaluation and Implementation theme of the Cambridge NIHR Biomedical Research Centre, and through the ethical, legal and social implications workpackage of the IMI European Prevention of Alzheimer’s Dementia project.


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© Macmillan Publishers Ltd., part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute of Public HealthUniversity of CambridgeCambridgeUK

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