CESAgen - Stem Cells: Capacity Building and Awareness Raising


The CESAGen contribution to the Stem Cells CBAR programme consists of 2 two-year projects and 1 3-year PhD studentship. It has been designed in accordance with the following principles that have been agreed among the Centres: the work-package is developmental, building on and complementing research strengths and research projects already established within the CESAGen portfolio. It is aimed towards capacity-building, in that the Research Associates and the PhD student will be part of a wider cohort of researchers, working on genomics and stem cells, in CESAGen and beyond, and is multidisciplinary, reflecting the collaborative links already developed between social scientists and biomedical scientists at Cardiff University and the Wales Gene Park.

These projects and studentships are complemented by the appointment ESRC/MRC Postdoctoral Fellow, Ingrid Geesink,. Her own research will be based in the Cardiff Institute for Tissue Repair and Engineering, a major facility for the application of stem-cell technology to tissue repair for clinical applications. Our work on stem cells continues work commenced with Dr Aditya Bharadwaj ( Edinburgh University ), concerned with the circulation of stem cells originating in India . Our preliminary study of the UK Stem Cells Bank explicitly complements the work being done by Professor Andrew Webster and Dr Lena Eriksson ( University of York ) on donor stem-cell laboratories. The CESAGen project on the media discourse of stem-cells innovation complements the EGENIS project on public discourse and public policy. Likewise, the doctoral student project on brain-repair research directly parallels the Exeter project on stem-cells applications in cardiology.

Project 1: The UK Stem Cell Bank – an Institutional Ecology.
Lead Investigator: Prof Peter Glasner

In 2003, the United Kingdom established the world’s first Stem Cell Bank (SCB) to be a repository for stem cell lines in the UK and elsewhere, and to make them available for use by both academic and commercial laboratories around the world. The ESRC funded a pilot project to explore this novel development through an ethnography of the Bank, its committees, and associated laboratories. Dr Neil Stephens is the RA and will continue to work on this project. This project provides an opportunity to consolidate the research initiated during the pilot phase as the Bank expands its operations in a number of areas over the next 2 years. These are to facilitate the deposit of clinical grade as well as research grade material, to allow withdrawal of material for research and developmental purposes, to ensure greater standardisation through the International Stem Cell Initiative (ISCI), and to support the development of a similar Bank in Spain . The Bank, Dr is co-operating fully in this research.

Project 2: Comparative Analyses of ‘Public Discourse ‘and ‘Discourses About the Public’ in Relation to Stem Cell Research.
Lead investigator: Prof Jenny Kitzinger

The public profile of, and public response to, stem cell research are crucial considerations in developing both the scientific research and the surrounding policy both in the UK and internationally (Franklin 2001). ‘Public discourses’ and ‘discourse about the public ’ are overlapping fields of enquiry – not least because enquiries into public discourse often end up constructing discourse about the public, and both are of concern to practitioners and policy makers (Conrad 1997; House of Lords 2000). Concerns focus both on the ways in which stem cell research is represented in the public domain (particularly via the mass media) and people’s responses (including the ‘lay knowledges’, risk judgements and ethical considerations which they bring to bear on their reception of the science and trust in policy making processes) (Kitzinger et al 2003).

In some countries such as the UK, we have seen the development of consultations processes (e.g. the current process around the review of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act) as diverse public are increasingly seen as key players both as citizens and as potential donors or consumers in relation to stem cell innovation (Glasner and Rothman, Chapter 8). Over the last few years there has also been a rapid expansion of research seeking to document people’s views about stem cell research. The need for such research has been underlined by work which reveals the gap between how the mass media and different lobbying groups may seek to shape, or represent, public discourses and the range, complexity and ambivalence that may be more characteristic of everyday talk and thinking about these issues (Kitzinger and Williams 2005; Petersen 2003; Smart 2003). Such research has also highlighted the diverse perspectives emerging from different religious, cultural and legislative traditions – all of which may impact on the development of science and the implementation of bio-technologies in an international context (Jasanoff 2005).

At every level, therefore, it is important to gain a critical and reflexive understanding both of ‘public discourses’ and of the construction of ‘discourses about the public’ and how these impact on innovation in this field.

The project builds on the findings, theory, and methods developed in the CESAgen flagship project ’Media, Culture, Genomics: The production, consumption and circuits of meanings about genomics within and around contemporary media’. During the course of this project stem cell research has emerged as a key field of development and contestation, raising crucial questions about the interplay between public discourse / discourses about the public and scientific innovation. The research will also develop in dialogue with the existing work on the specific field of ‘public engagement’ (being conducted within Innogen) and it will complement the new work by Egenis examining policy and regulation.

Doctoral Studentship (3 years): From Bench to Brain: the Processes of Developing Neurological Stem Cell Therapies
Supervisor: Prof Paul Atkinson

The Brain Repair Group, based within the Cardiff School of Biosciences is carrying out fundamental stem-cell research to develop clinical interventions for diseases of the CNS including Huntingdon’s Disease (HD) and Parkinson’s Disease (PD). Advances in the understanding of mechanisms of cell death, plasticity and regeneration in the CNS offer new opportunities for remediation and repair in HD and PD.. The Brain Repair Group is pioneering neuronal transplantation and seeking to develop new strategies for therapy based on a multidisciplinary approach (Barker A and Dunnett 1999; Fawcett et al 2000). They are collaborating with neurosurgeons at the University of Wales College of Medicine on a programme of clinical trials, as well as working with animal models. Neural transplantation - in which developing neural cells derived from stem-cell lines are implanted to replace cells that have degenerated - is emerging as a attainable and effective therapy (Svendsen et al 1997; Rosser et al 2000). The Cardiff social scientists are in a privileged position of being able to follow the development of an innovative neurological therapy, its penetration into an allied clinical site and the subsequent ethical ramifications for both professional practice and patient care. In addition to stem-cells research, this clinical application also involves functional brain-imaging of neural regeneration after implantation. This interdisicplinary environment provides an outstanding opportunity for a doctoral student to gain the experience of undertaking laboratory and clinical ethnography, under Atkinson’s supervision, within a multidisciplinary social-science team.

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Prof Paul Atkinson

Prof Jenny Kitzinger

Prof Steve Dunnett

Prof Peter Glasner

Prof Ruth Chadwick

Dr Neil Stephens

Dr Fiona Coyle

Mr Jamie Lewis

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Stephens, N, Atkinson, A & Glasner, P (2008)
The UK Stem Cell Bank as performative architecture
New Genetics and Society, Volume 27 Issue 2, 87

Stephens, N
Internationalising Stem Cell Banking? Challenges in Harmonising the Internation Movement of Human Embryonic Stem Cells. p 28-30
March ESRC Genomics Network Newsletter


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