Accepted Paper:

"Personalized Medicine" and "Eggs Forever": Promissory work in genomic research and reproductive medicine  


Gaia Barazzetti (University of Lausanne, CHUV University Hospital Lausanne)
Nolwenn Bühler (University of Neuchâtel)

Paper short abstract:

This paper compares promises in genomic research and reproductive medicine. Analyses of scientific and institutional discourses and practices show that promissory work in these two fields display similar patterns when dealing with issues of credibility, temporality and durability.

Paper long abstract:

We examine how promises are forged in two different techno-scientific fields: genomic research and reproductive medicine. While genome research promises to increase our ability to prevent and treat disease, embedding a vision of "personalized medicine" that will be beneficial for both individual and public health, some reproductive technologies such as egg donation, freezing, or techniques aiming at "renewing" oocytes promise to extend female fertility beyond the biological age limits. Drawing on analyses of discourses and practices of scientific and institutional actors, we compare promissory work in these two fields with the goal of elucidating specific patterns of credibility and temporality.

In both promises the boundary between research and the clinic is continuously crossed in order to foster the translation of research into clinical applications. An "ethical boundary-work" aiming at gaining credibility in the eyes of policy-makers, healthcare professionals and the public has become an integral part of personalized medicine, whereas it is much more context-dependent when it comes to the biotechnological extension of fertility. Promissory work in both fields show similar approaches to temporality, since they open up imaginaries of possible futures for healthcare or reproduction, based on the anticipation of scientific evidence that is yet to be established and works in the present as if it was already there. Finally, the durability of promises of "personalized medicine" and "eggs forever" seems to depend not only on the gap between expectations and actual practices, but also on the engagement of private companies creating a market of promising products.

Panel T094
Emerging science and technology : questioning the regime of promising