1. ESRC Genomics Network (archive)
  2. Gengage
  3. The Human Genre Project

Egenis · Research

Stem Cell Science: Epistemology, history, ethics and research practice

Christine Hauskeller

Start date


Affiliated staff

Jean Harrington (03.11-09.12), Alison Kraft (09.11-09.12) and Dana Wilson-Kovacs (10.08-03.10)PhD students: Jean Harrington and Marco Liverani



Email: C.Hauskeller@exeter.ac.uk


Cells have become a major target for and tool of biomedical attention and intervention. The cells under study are often modified in multiple ways, refined, selected, marked, or developed into cell lines. Cells in cell lines change over cycles of proliferation and develop mutations characteristic of their respective laboratory environment. Techniques are being developed to modify the DNA content of cells, manage the complex interactions between cell components and the semi-permeability, in order to add to or reduce their contents.

The discourse about cellular therapies employs a rhetoric of natural versus modified. This distinction is mirrored in the regulatory systems that control both the science and its application in animals and humans. The recent debate in the UK about hybrid embryos, and more globally about induced pluripotent cells and proto cells and their status in the arenas of society and morality, biomedicine and science, demonstrates the need to engage with the classifications and ideologies in order to understand the role of the science and its social uptake.


In attempts to create artificial living entities, the definitions of ‘life’ that are employed are crucial to both the understanding of what synthetic biology is and whether it achieves its aims. Correspondingly, markers for when life exists are of major importance to the field. The simplification and modelling of understandings of life affects both the ontology of the synthetic living objects and the socio-cultural signature of the field, and its ethical challenges.


  • Literature analysis including scientific, philosophical and social science literature
  • Participant observation at a range of typical events including scientific conferences, public engagement events and seminars with wider publics and students
  • Interviews with researchers in science and medicine, policy makers and legal and administrative actors working in private or public institutions

Related projects:

Christine Hauskeller is a partner in the FP7 project: The effect of intracoronary reinfusion of bone marrow-derived mononuclear cells (BM-MNC) on all-cause mortality in acute myocardial infarction (BAMI)


Hauskeller, C., 2009, ‘Toward a Critical Evaluation of Proto Cell Research’, in Bedau M. and Parke E. (eds), The Ethics of Proto Cells: Moral and Social Implications of Creating Life in the Laboratory, MIT Press, pp. 598-636.

Hauskeller, C. and Weber, S., 'Framing pluripotency: iPS cells and the shaping of stem cell science', New Genetics and Society, 30 (4), December 2011, pp 415-432.

Educational tool: Hauskeller, C. and Harrington, J.

Policy Advice:

Hauskeller, C. Stammzellforschung und Gesellschaft - ein Vergleich der Beziehung beider in Deutschland und England’ Presentation for the Zentralen Ethik-Kommission fuer Stammzellenforschung (ZES), Berlin, 21st January 2009.

Hauskeller, C. and Weber, S. Egenis contribution on Stem Cell Research to the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee call for evidence on Genomic Medicine, 23rd April 2008.

User and Public Engagement:

  • Discussion on the UK tissue regulation and its effects on science and translation EGN Conference Policy Debate with Shirley Harrison (Head, Human Tissue Authority), 28th October 2008.
  • Embryos and Stem Cell Research, Exeter Guildhall, Panel with Ben Bradshaw (Health Minister), Dr Liz Toy (PMS), Prof. John Dupré (Egenis) and Dame Suzie Leather (Chair), 18th June 2008.
  • BBSRC/MRC Stem Cell Dialogue Bristol – Expert talk and discussion with publics, 3rd May 2008
  • Knowledge Criteria in Stem Cell Science, Plenary Speech at Launch Conference UK Stem Cell Network, Edinburgh, 10th April 2008.
  • Die Stammzelldebatte in Grossbritannien’, Presentation at the Public Conference ‘Das Kreuz mit den Stammzellen’, Evangelische Akademie Wittenberg Lutherstadt, 3rd November 2007.
  • Radio interview: News Hour on the BBC World Service, on the Regulation of ESC Research and Hybrids, 4th September 2007.
  • The Hard Cell Cheltenham Science Festival, Panel with Prof. Colin Blakemore Dr Chris Mason and Lord Robert Winston, 16th July 2007.
  • The Stem Cell Debate, Cardiff Techniquest, Panel with Sir Martin Evans and Dr Nick Allen, 18th October 2006.