Neuro-Innovation: Translational Science, Ethics & the Financialization of Health
Technology and Society
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AbstractThis dissertation is an ethnographic exploration of the ethical, scientific, and economic values and practices underlying clinical translational research in the United States, with a particular focus on the development of brain-based technologies. The 2000s represent a key moment in this field with a large monetary investment on national levels and the creation of dozens of new translational research programs across the country dedicated to turning the nation's scientific discoveries into new treatments for patients. Investigating the various actors, institutions, funds, and discourses involved in the constitution of the burgeoning field of Translational Neuroscience (TN), I carried out twenty-four months of fieldwork in California. I conducted participant observation in a neuroscience laboratory, attended industry-sponsored events, and engaged medical researchers and patients and their families in experimental clinical settings in Ohio. I also analyzed market reports and critically reviewed the TN literature as well as social studies of this emerging field. Throughout the dissertation, I show that the emergence and consolidation of TN in the early 2000s coincided with the corporatization of healthcare and a crisis of innovation in the pharmaceutical industry. TN also involved a systematic transfer or outsourcing of investment risk onto non-profit universities. Both adopting and challenging the analytic of "risk," I argue that TN has become a key site for industry actors "to de-risk" high-risk neurotechnology investments. Thus, rather than being principally about health, TN may be better thought of as a contemporary form of finance. Moreover, as neurotechnological products are designed and folded into care, this study uncovers the ways in which foreclosed knowledge pathways and risk infiltrate clinical practice and patient decision- making. The dissertation thus illuminates changing ideas of health and of medical ethics associated with translational science and theorizes the unintended effects and risks triggered by TN's fast-paced production pipeline. This ethnographic study contributes to the public understanding of the institutionalization of translational science and problematizes the role of finance in the design of large-scale health interventions.
TypeAcademic dissertations (Ph.D.)