Dissertation Abstracts

Biobanks and human bio-objects: social dynamics in health contexts

Author: Brígida Riso, brigida.riso@gmail.com
Department: Sociology
University: ISCTE-IUL, Portugal
Supervisor: Graça Carapinheiro
Year of completion: In progress
Language of dissertation: Portuguese

Keywords: Biobanks , bio-objects , health , politics of life
Areas of Research: Health , Science and Technology , Body in the Social Sciences


The systematic storing of human biological samples in biobanks has increased in Portugal and worldwide. The creation of the UK Biobank and the phenomenon of deCode Genetics in Iceland are paradigmatic cases which have led to a widespread discussion in Europe about ethical, legal and social issues concerning banks of biological samples and genetic databases. In Portugal biobanks are mostly focused on forensic, medical diagnosis and therapeutic purposes. Although there is no specific legal framework, it is possible to identify some biobanks engaged in clinical research and health innovation. These units, usually committed with high levels of medical training, research and development, have human biological samples as their study and work object. The medical gaze is now focusing in a deeper analysis of the body; genes, cells and nano entities are enough to produce a medical diagnostic, in certain cases. The biological products gain an autonomous existence and identity, different from those of the human individual who has given the sample, throughout a bio-objectification process. The samples are collected in a voluntary basis, from ill and healthy donors, and are scrutinized under advanced technologies, which codify and order, promoting tumours and surgical waste into objects of science and health innovation. This research, grounded in a health sociology perspective, explores how the collection and storage of these human biological samples in specific places for clinical research is generating novel ways to interpret and define body boundaries, new configurations of health and illness, and the design of sophisticated politics of life.