Monday, 24 June 2013

Animal Models and the Dynamics of Biomedicine

Animal models have long played a key role in biomedical research, impacting on the nature of laboratory practices, regulation and governance, and – ultimately – the kinds of knowledge about health and illness that scientists can produce. At the same time, the use of animals in research continues to attract public debate, and organisations like the National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research (NC3Rs) are sponsored by the UK Research Councils, the Wellcome Trust and industry to support initiatives that will reduce, refine and replace the numbers of animals involved. The challenges and opportunities of this for biomedicine have been extensively debated, but there is a dearth of empirical, social science research that takes as its focus the everyday activities of scientists at the ‘coal face’.
Dr Martyn Pickersgill, a sociologist in the Centre for Population Health Sciences, has recently been awarded sponsorship from the Moray Endowment to undertake research on ‘Animal Models and the Dynamics of Biomedicine’. This project is situated at the interface between the disciplines of science and technology studies (STS), medical sociology, and empirical bioethics. It uses qualitative focus groups with researchers employing animal models in the study of biological processes (human and non-human), in order to generate discussion about the changing use of animals in research and the ethical and scientific decision-making involved. Part of Pickersgill’s wider research programme on the social and ethical dimensions of science and medicine, the study aims to cast new light on the means by which regulatory structures, moral discourse, and scientific questions come together to shape the nature of biomedical innovation.

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