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Making bio-objects mobile: behind the scenes of a translational stem cell banking consortium

Abstract

The concept of bio-objectification describes how the ‘raw materials’ of living cells and tissues are subject to both technical manipulations and ontological transformations to produce novel ‘bio-objects’ such as cell lines and transgenic animals. Bio-objects are conceptually fluid, but also subject to literal circulation through biobanks and repositories. Making bio-objects mobile means producing them in such a way that they are capable of travelling across jurisdictions, institutional boundaries, and of moving between public and private sectors. This paper uses one particular bio-object—the human induced pluripotent stem cell (hiPSC), and a particular context, a European consortium dedicated to creating an open access repository of hiPSC—to explore what making mobilisable bio-objects entails. The bio-object not only has multiple strands of identity—legal, ethical, political, technical—but this identity is distributed across, and inscribed in, a variety of paper documents, digital records, as well as the biological material. Making bio-objects mobile means putting these heterogeneous components into circulation, which can entail travel through different infrastructures and at different speeds. Moreover, contemporary legal and ethical requirements for the use of human biomaterials require the formation of durable connections that tie bio-objects to places and persons of origin as a condition of mobility.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Directive 2004/23/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 31 March 2004 on setting standards of quality and safety for the donation, procurement, testing, processing, preservation, storage and distribution of human tissues and cells.

  2. 2.

    Research Ethics approval for this study was obtained from the Social Sciences and Humanities Inter-divisional Research.

    Ethics Committee (IDREC) of the University of Oxford (Ref no SSD/CUREC1A/14–205).

  3. 3.

    The associated information sheet also explained that the cells would not be transplanted into any person or used for reproductive purposes, although they could be used in animal experiments.

  4. 4.

    See e.g. Shapin (1989).

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Acknowledgements

The initial research leading to these results has received funding from the Innovative Medicines Initiative Joint Undertaking under Grant Agreement No. 115439 (StemBANCC), resources of which are composed of financial contribution from the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/2007-2013) and EFPIA companies in kind contribution. This publication reflects only the author’s views and neither the IMI JU nor EFPIA nor the European Commission are liable for any use that may be made of the information contained therein. Further work on this publication was carried out with the support of the Economic and Social Research council grant “Biomodifying technologies and experimental space: organisational and regulatory implications for the translation and valuation of health research” (Grant No. ES/P002943/1). I would like to thank Andrew Webster and Luca Marelli for helpful discussions on earlier drafts of this manuscript, and the four anonymous peer reviewers for their constructive input.

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Morrison, M. Making bio-objects mobile: behind the scenes of a translational stem cell banking consortium. BioSocieties (2020). https://doi.org/10.1057/s41292-020-00207-3

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Keywords

  • Bio-objects
  • Mobility
  • Regulation
  • Stem cells