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What's in a name: Are cultured red blood cells 'natural'?

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Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-15
Number of pages15
JournalSociology of Health and Illness
Early online date2 Mar 2018
StateE-pub ahead of print - 2 Mar 2018


The case of cultured red blood cells (RBCs) currently being grown in a laboratory for future use in human transfusion raises questions about the ontological status of such products of modern biotechnology. This paper presents results from a six-year ethnographic study involving interviews, focus groups and other forms of engagement with the scientific research team and other stakeholders, including public groups, which sought to understand respondents' reactions to cultured RBCs. These cells, derived from stem cell technology, have the potential to address the global shortage of donated blood. How these blood cells are situated within the spectrum of 'natural' to 'synthetic' will shape expectations and acceptance of this product, both within the scientific community and by wider publics: these blood cells are both novel and yet, at the same time, very familiar. Drawing on discussions related to classification and 'anchoring', we examine the contrasting discourses offered by our respondents on whether these blood cells are 'natural' or not and consider the impact that naming might have on both their future regulation and the eventual uptake of cultured RBCs by society. © 2017 John Wiley & Sons Ltd and the Foundation for the Sociology of Health & Illness.

    Research areas

  • blood, patient and public engagement, identity, stem cell research, ethnography

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