Biomedical Futures: Social Scientists engaging with big questions about science

1 Sep 2017

National Science Week provided an opportunity for Dr. Declan Kuch, Dr. Georgia Miller and A/Prof Matthew Kearnes to engage with laboratory scientists, researchers and policy-makers around their research into the construction and implications of precision and targeting in biomedicine. They make up the social dimensions team of the ARC Centre of Excellence in Convergent Bio-Nano Science and Technology, currently in its 3rd year of operation. Their work involves both ethnographic research of the science in the making and the broader policy landscape. These overlaps between science and policy have become increasingly visible in the push to engage publics in the making of various biobanks, such as the ‘All of US’ initiative.

Biomedical Futures Symposium

Three events were held for Science Week: the first a major symposium with key stakeholders in Australian precision medicine, including experts appointed to the current ACOLA review on the topic, representatives from the Australian Digital Health Agency, clinical practitioners and numerous biobanks. The symposium (audio and slides of which are available here) explored the history and context of individualised medicine, critical issues at the intersection of care and choice, regulatory issues around biobanking including the ownership and control of data, and critical appraisal of biomedical promises. HAL colleagues Eben Kirksey, Nic Rasmussen and Daniel Robinson provided insightful work on their work on CRISPR, the history of obesity measurement, and Pharma and the Nagoya Protocol respectively.

Biomedical Futures Symposium

Professor Jenny Reardon (UCSC) made an outstanding keynote lecture Just Biomedical Research based on her most recent book The Postgenomic Condition. Drawing inspiration from Arendt’s original formulation of human condition, Professor Reardon powerfully argued that simplistic narratives that genomic science - and precision medicine - will produce new cures and miracle drugs obscure harder questions about not only the meaning of genomic data but also how and by whom decisions about who lives and dies should be made. A panel responded, consisting of Dr. Orin Chisholm (Program Director and Senior Lecturer in Pharmaceutical Medicine in the School of Medical Sciences at UNSW); Professor Emma Kowal (Professor of Anthropology in Alfred Deakin Institute for Citizenship and Globalisation at Deakin University and Deputy Director of the National Centre for Indigenous Genomics); Sharif Bagnulo (NSW Rural Doctors Network, Outreach Programme Manager). The lecture will be broadcast on ABC Radio National’s Big Ideas.

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Professor Reardon’s visit, supported by the School, also included a postgraduate and early career Science and Justice masterclass, which explored how the concept of justice might adapt to the changing conceptions of ‘data’ in research across fields including energy engineering, law and biomedicine.

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