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In the wake of mounting concerns regarding translational failure between bench research to bedside therapies, new actors, fields, and technologies now promise to disrupt existing biomedical research practices. In this talk, I offer a sociological account of novel biomedical models called organ chips that promise to do just this. Organ chips are models of human organs that have the potential to transform pharmaceutical testing and provide new insights into human pathophysiology by replacing animal models and bringing “the human” into the earliest stages of biomedical research. In this talk, I discuss how organ chips emerge as productive and valuable tools, tracing how they are imagined and brought into fruition by a diverse set of actors across government, industry, and academic sectors. The ways in which the translational crisis is constructed fuel particular formations of research teams, funding structures, and kinds of health interventions, that together render organ chips the ‘right’ tool for resolving the translational crisis. I then show how the very notion of a model being human enough is socially negotiated and argue that the interests that elevate these technologies and their value also shape their very design. In doing so, I excavate the sociality of scientific work and the power relations at play in shaping the production of novel biomedical technologies.
Melanie Jeske is currently a postdoctoral fellow at the Institute on the Formation of Knowledge at the University of Chicago. Situated at the intersection of sociology of medicine and science and technology studies, her research explores social, political and ethical dimensions of knowledge systems, emergent biotechnologies, and expertise. My work across these areas has been published in journals including Science, Technology & Human Values, Social Science & Medicine, BioSocieties, PLOS ONE, and Engaging Science, Technology, and Society.