Translational neonatology research: transformative encounters across species and disciplines

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This paper explores the laborious and intimate work of turning bodies of research animals into models of human patients. Based on ethnographic research in the interdisciplinary Danish research centre NEOMUNE, we investigate collaboration across species and disciplines, in research aiming at improving survival for preterm infants. NEOMUNE experimental studies on piglets evolved as a platform on which both basic and clinical scientists exercised professional authority. Guided by the field of multi-species research, we explore the social and material agency of research animals in the production of human health. Drawing on Anna Tsing’s concept of “collaborative survival”, we show that sharing the responsibility of the life and death of up to twenty-five preterm piglets fostered not only a collegial solidarity between basic and clinical scientists, but also a transformative cross-fertilization across species and disciplines—a productive “contamination”—facilitating the day-to-day survival of piglets, the academic survival of scientists and the promise of survival of preterm infants. Contamination spurred intertwined identity shifts that increased the porosity between the pig laboratory and the neonatal intensive care unit. Of particular significance was the ability of the research piglets to flexibly become animal-infant-patient hybrids in need of a united effort from basic and clinical researchers. However, ‘hybrid pigs’ also entailed a threat to the demarcation between humans and animals that consolidates the use of animals in biomedical research, and efforts were continuously done to keep contamination within spatial limits. We conclude that contamination facilitates transformative encounters, yet needs spatial containment to materialize bench-to-bedside translation.

TidsskriftHistory and Philosophy of the Life Sciences
Udgave nummer1
StatusUdgivet - 2018

ID: 202379328