Biomedical Research and the Politics of the Human investigates how biotechnology is reshaping our understanding of the human, and transforming relations between humans and other animals.

How are new advances in science and technology straining the current ethical and political underpinnings of the human research subject? How are legal, political and ethical differences between humans and other animals constituted and maintained in biomedical research?

Funded by a Wellcome Trust Investigator Award in the Social Sciences and Humanities, this project investigates recent transformations in biotechnology by asking: what and who constitutes the human in biomedical research? Despite the many assumptions we may hold about what and who is human, no study has delivered fine-grained empirical research about how scientists, policy-makers, and regulators approach and define the human across genetic, cellular, and organismal levels.

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Biomedical Research and the Politics of the Human is a research project exploring how cell-based biotechnologies are reshaping our understanding of the human, and transforming relations between humans and other animals. We aim to make more visible current changes around who and what counts as a human subject in biomedical research. The project is funded by the Wellcome Trust and led by sociologist, Amy Hinterberger.


A series of changes – in biomedicine itself, as well as in the scholarship on science and society – signal that it is a crucial time to reconsider the meaning and function of the human in the life sciences. What and who counts as a human research subject is being called into question across a variety of in vitro (outside an organism) and in vivo (within an organism) experimental methods in bioscience.

Our project explores the pursuit of human-specific models of disease and development including how researchers can now make organ-like structures in a dish (called ‘organoids’), as well as techniques used to deliver and grow human tissues and cells in non-human animals. These techniques are straining the conventional ethical and political boundaries of biomedicine which have traditionally separated humans from other animals.

Our explorations will contribute to increasing public understanding and awareness about the significance of cell-based technologies, along with informing scholarly and public debates about new biotechnologies


Using qualitative empirical and ethnographic research methods, the project is designed as a social and ethical exploration into the changing relationship between humans, animals and biomedicine. We have adopted an innovative, comparative research design that extends from the lab bench to legislation and from ethics guidelines to committee meeting rooms.

Our data includes a wide range of sources including 1) interviews with scientists, lawyers, and policy-makers; 2) site-specific ethnographic case studies related to cellular in vitro and in vivo research practices; and 3) documentary and historical archives


We are a group of interdisciplinary social scientists who research key sites in biomedicine and biotechnology. Our research makes more visible relations between humans and animals with a specific focus on the development of twentieth and twenty-first century cellular technologies.  Together we study these key sites in biomedical research, both in the laboratory and beyond in heath research regulation, to make more visible current transformations around who and what counts as a human research subject in biomedical research.