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Centre for Cancer Biomarkers CCBIO
A speaker's perspective on the S.Net conference

Building the world we want to live in

Caroline Engen is a CCBIO PhD candidate who presented at the S.Net conference in Bergen. Her lecture was titled "Why Targeted Therapy May Not Work", and was part of the CCBIO session "The Transition from a Blockbuster Model to Personalised Cancer Therapy". We asked Caroline to walk us through a medical researcher's perspective of the conference and the use of new technologies.

Plenary discussion Sheila Jasanoff, Silvio Funtowicz and Alfred Nordmann. Chair: Roger Strand
Photo:
Emma Hjellestad. S.Net Conference: Plenary discussion. From left to right: Roger Strand (chair), Alfred Nordmann, Silvio Funtowicz, Sheila Jasanoff and Joe Dumit.

"Last week, 11th to 14th September, I was fortunate to attend and present at the conference "The Co-Production of Emerging Bodies, Politics and Technologies" organized by the Society for the study of New and Emerging Technologies (S.NET). The main theme permeating the program was the contemporary dawn of a new technoscientific-world, characterized by technological solutions to real world problems. 

A future healthcare system

This echoes a strong development we recognize in our own field of research. Concepts like "Nanotechnology", "Big data", "Synthetic biology", "Genetic engineering", "Machine learning", "Artificial intelligence", "Systems biology", and "Personalized medicine", are all currents adding up to a strong vision of a future healthcare system that we imagine able to predict, prevent, and treat disease in a significantly more efficient way than we can today.

Technological advances versus core human values

The three keynote presentations by Silvio Funtowicz (UiB), Joseph Dumit (Davis), and Sheila Jasanoff (Harvard) were all, in various ways, posing a concern that the enthusiasm for technological and scientific advances were undermining the worth of core human qualities and values, like rationality and self-reflection.

Most medical practitioners and cancer researchers agree that emerging science and technologies encompass a huge applicable potential for improvements within current clinical and research practices. Anticipating plausible impacts, both desirable and undesirable, reflecting and deliberating on these various scientific advances and their accompanying technologies does however remind us that it is not the science or technology itself but the careful and considerate application of the science and technology that might facilitate future health benefits. The way we choose to prioritize research resources as well as how we choose to implement and apply new technology, including new diagnostic tests and new therapeutic strategies, shapes not just our health care sector in a organisational manner but also the various identities within the healthcare system, the care providers, the patients, as well as the society as a whole. New technology will even co-produce, or rather co-evolve, our understanding of concepts like health and quality of life.

Connecting the pieces

The conference was a powerful reminder of one of the fundamental principles in medical research and healthcare practices; when we take on the adventure of discovering new things about health and disease by taking a closer look, unravelling the details, by studying composite parts of the human biological system, we are essentially fragmenting and reducing the human condition to the sum of its parts. It is in this setting crucial that we remember how all the pieces connect together. When we make abstractions about how our findings fit in the world, and we create suggestions for how they should be integrated in the health care sector we must look at the impact of our invention or intervention, not just on the part we studied, not even at the level of the biological system, but rather in the context of the concept of health and at the level of our society. It is imperative to remember that genetic impairment or aberrantly expressed proteins alone do not define the degree of health loss suffered. Health and health loss always and profoundly involves physiological, psychological and societal processes.

The power and excitement for novel and emerging science and technology is therefore not about the world or health care service it could possibly allow us to create, but rather about the possibility to imagine, create and build the world we want to live in."

 

Related articles

Also see below related content, articles about the CCBIO session at the S.Net conference and the pre-conference event October 11th.