Pluripotent Science: Use of Stem Cells in the Creation, Assistance and Prolonging of Lives


This project studies the medical assistance and enhancement of the first and the last stages of human life course, by exploring ethical, political, economic, and personal aspects of these interventions. Our point of departure is the notion that birth and ageing, bodily reproduction and degeneration are transforming profoundly through the application of new biomedical technologies. Our project brings together three current public health problems in Western societies, those of infertility, children’s diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease, which we study in the context of promises opened up by stem cell science. Using the methods of multi-sited ethnography, the project analyses the meanings professionals give to the controversial biological materials they work with, in relation to their use in the assistance and enhancement of the “beginnings” and “endings” of life. We also explore patients’ perceptions about the donation and transplanting of cells and tissue, and the embodied experiences these new biomedical technologies give rise to. This research design enables us to identify networks of biological matter, techniques, knowledge, and human actors. The results of the project provide knowledge on the emerging relations between agency, dependency and assistance in birth and death.

The project was funded by Kone Foundation. Project members are Lotta Hautamäki, Kaisa Kivipuro and Elina Helosvuori.