Duncan Wilson at SSHM December 9th speaking of “Roadmaps and Pipelines, Hurdles and Obstacles: Translational Medicine and the ‘Bioethics Backlash’”

We are delighted to invite you to our next upcoming SSHM Seminar Series event. Please save the date for Dr. Duncan Wilson (Centre for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine at University of Manchester) who will present his latest work on translational medicine:“Roadmaps and Pipelines, Hurdles and Obstacles: Translational Medicine and the ‘Bioethics Backlash’”

The Seminar will place on Wednesday 9th December from 13:00-14:30 in Room K0.18 (King’s Building), Strand Campus, King’s College London.

Abstract: ‘Translational Medicine’ refers to the ‘bench to bedside’ enterprise of harnessing scientific findings to produce medical innovations that ‘alleviate disease and suffering to improve the quality of human existence’. While the term emerged in the 1990s many argue that Translational Medicine’s core aim and methods are longstanding and that it represents little more than ‘old wine in new bottles’. This is not quite the case, however, and in this paper I argue that Translational Medicine involves unprecedented efforts to tackle the non-scientific ‘obstacles’ that are believed to inhibit the translation from research to clinical practice: including a lack of communication between laboratory researchers and clinicians, neglect of the government-industrial partnerships necessary for ‘health and wealth’, and the ‘stifling’ regulatory guidelines for research on human subjects. Focussing on the last of these perceived obstacles, I argue that in recent decades British scientists, doctors and funding bodies have evoked a ‘translational imperative’, i.e., a need to move quickly from laboratory to real world, in order to criticise the guidelines drawn up by what some pejoratively called the ‘ethics industry’, where lawyers, philosophers and other ‘outsiders’ play a major role in regulating issues that were once left to doctors and scientists. I detail how this criticism contributed to a backlash against bioethics and the political ‘streamlining’ of the advisory bodies that bioethicists had previously argued were vital to securing public trust. And I close by arguing that these efforts to scale back ‘the many processes that conspire to make research harder’, along with the presumption that scientists and doctors remain the best judges of what is ethical, present a fundamental challenge for bioethicists and scholars in the medical humanities.

DUNCAN WILSON is a lecturer in the history of science and medicine at the University of Manchester’s Centre for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine (CHSTM). His work investigates the interplay between changing notions of health, disease and morality in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and he is the author of two books: Tissue Culture in Science and Society: The Public Life of a Biological Technique in Twentieth Century Britain (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011) and The Making of British Bioethics (Manchester: University of Manchester Press, 2014). You can read the review of Duncan’s “The Making of British Bioethics” written by Dr Silvia Camporesi for the American Journal of Bioethics here.

For more information about our SSHM Seminar Series, please visit:


For a selection of audio-recorded talks, please visit:


This entry was posted in Bioethics, History of Medicine, Medical Humanities and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

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