IntroductionDr Susan Kelly has been awarded a Social Science Stem Cell Initiative International Visiting Fellowship.
The Fellowship will fund a visit to the United States for Dr Kelly as part of her project on fetal cell microchimerism (FCM). She will visit the laboratory of Dr Diana Bianchi (Tufts Medical School, Boston), a leading researcher on FCM.
Dr Kelly’s project is a sociological study of research in fetal/maternal medicine and cell science into the phenomena of human FCM as innovation at the periphery of stem cell science. In the 1970s the persistence of fetal cells in maternal blood was identified as a potential source of fetal genetic material for prenatal diagnosis bypassing existing invasive methods such as amniocentesis. While this goal has proved elusive, it is now speculated that microchimeric fetal cells represent ‘reserves’ of stem cells with regenerative potential. Much work has been directed toward methods of classifying and identifying cells as fetal, and categorically not maternal, in origin. The study will explore these ambiguities of definition, classification and identification and the strategies employed by scientists working in FCM, particularly those engaged in positioning fetal cells within the category of therapeutically useful cell types.
As part of her research Dr Kelly will interview scientists to clarify their use and understanding of concepts including progenitor cell, fetal cell, microchimerism, etc. and to identify how object classifications are being produced and established. She will identify how key actors visualise future uses and meanings of fetal cell microchimerism, ask them to identify future research strategies, including research involving therapeutic potential of such cells, and explore areas of scientific and social controversy relevant to their current work and identified futures.