[-empyre-] Cellular Risk

Aimee Bahng aimeebahng at gmail.com
Sat Nov 10 03:50:47 EST 2012

I'm already so energized by this conversation. Thanks for letting me join
in. Every year I teach the HeLa example in a course called "Science,
Fiction, and Empire," and it raises the important question of across/in/via
whose bodies biotechnology accelerates, accretes, proliferates.
Transnational surrogacy, medical tourism, the genome projects in Hawai'i
and Iceland are other examples that come to mind that instantiate the ways
profit-driven science looks specifically to bodies already subjected to
other forms of global capitalist fallout, while the technologies themselves
serve members of a first world or global elite, who demand wombs for rent,
kidneys harvested, genetic data collected. Following Stewart's careful use
of scare quotes around the word "volunteer," we should amplify this call to
resist the euphemistic language of “donation” and “volunteerism”
strategically implemented by industries that stand to profit from coercive,
or at least opportunistic, practices. The discursive formation around
biotech industries needs to be examined, too, as it participates in an
attempt to swath coercive enterprises in virtuous overtones of equal

Kalindi Vora <http://saq.dukejournals.org/content/111/4/681.full.pdf+html>’s
excellent research on call centers and transnational surrogacy in India is
especially helpful in pointing out the unevenness of the care that biotech
can impart on aggrieved groups almost unwittingly, or perhaps
symptomatically. In several cases documented by Vora, women working as
gestational carriers in clinics in Northern India remark on how the kind of
"technologically mediated care" they receive as surrogates far exceeds the
conditions of their previous pregnancies where, not only were there no
doctor's visits, but also little attention was paid to the amount of
nutrition and rest the mother was getting. For Vora, commercial surrogacy
"makes plain the connection between the exhaustion of biological bodies and
labors in India to extend 'life' in the First World and a longer history of
power relations underpinning what may seem like an emerging form of
biopower." So, whose lives are we saving, extending, imagining into a
future? What other possible futures can we imagine? To this end, I am so
happy that Ricardo Dominguez's work in conjunction with the Electronic
Disturbance Theater have already made an appearance in this stream. I would
also point to Alex Rivera's film Sleep Dealer as another possible site of
critical speculation.

All best,
Aimee Bahng

On Fri, Nov 9, 2012 at 8:28 AM, Stewart Auyash <auyash at ithaca.edu> wrote:

> Thank you, Bishnu and Bhaskar,
> I love your using the HeLa example. Her story is amazing on so many
> levels. It offers us in public health (and elsewhere) more teachable
> moments than I can think of. Honestly, I never thought much about it's
> relationship to risk, though. Thanks for that.
> You provoked me to think about the kinds of risks we take on with human
> subjects in health and medicine (not to mention to daily we risks we take
> as human guinea pigs with regards to BPA in our plastic bottles, additives
> to our foods and drinks, breathing the air next to a power plant, climate
> change, etc...) . At least in formal medical and health research, we are
> required to let the "volunteers" know the risks (thanks in part to the
> shameful legacy of the Tuskegee Experiment).  However, this assumes that 1)
> those being researched are truly "volunteers' (they might be paid or have
> no other clinical choices for example) and 2) that the researches
> themselves know what the risks are.  Depending on the research, we really
> do not know the risks or possible gains even could be. After all, isn't
> that why we are doing research?  And human subjects reviews take place
> mainly in rich countries where there are laws requiring informed consent
> (however that may apply).  Thus the risk is somewhat shared between the
> researcher and the researched. But among the poorer countries and other
> places with little oversight, the risk is taken on solely by the
> "volunteer." To me that's a major ethical risk issue we all to often ignore.
> Thanks again for raising this issue.
> Cheer,
> Stewart
> On Thu, Nov 8, 2012 at 8:46 PM, Bishnupriya Ghosh <bg366 at cornell.edu>wrote:
>> Hi Renate--
>> yeah, I deliberately chose a well-known and controversial instance of
>> what a productive, risk-taking, future-oriented practice might look like.
>> My intent was to think of "potentiation" as a creative development of what
>> is latent (in this case, facilitating cell growth in a medium outside the
>> human body), without quite knowing whether or not it will work, for how
>> long, or if it will be used and misused. In this sense, potentiation is
>> value-neutral as a proliferating, extending, advancing of something.
>> it might have been the case that Dr.Gey asked Henrietta Lacks, she
>> agreed, and he goes on to do the very same thing that he did: take 2
>> samples from her cervix, one of healthy and the other cancerous cells. But
>> he didn't--choosing instead to ACCUMULATE Hela (if we see Hela as not just
>> cells, but the knowledge gained from them) to consolidate his name. In this
>> sense all potentiation practices remain open to capture: to calculated
>> accumulation that capitalizes and turns a profit. I think that other drive,
>> the drive to control and turn potential into calculable capacities, is
>> always present: in this instance, the U.S. Patent and Trademark decision of
>> 2001 enabled labs to patenting, and thereby, price cell lines). But it
>> never quite erases the fecundity of some modes of potentiation, does it?
>> Hela continues to give.
>> With the cellular, I could have presented the ethical issues we all know
>> re the infamous Eduardo Kac and his GFP bunny. But I thought something
>> completely different--in a different risk domain, with different
>> stakes--provides a good foil to think through the ethics particular to the
>> artistic...
>> ________________________________________
>> From: empyre-bounces at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au [
>> empyre-bounces at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au] on behalf of Renate Ferro [
>> rtf9 at cornell.edu]
>> Sent: Thursday, November 08, 2012 4:30 PM
>> To: soft_skinned_space
>> Subject: Re: [-empyre-] Cellular Risk
>> Bishnu wrote:
>> _snip
>> "In Hela, then, we glimpse the two faces of risk culture. The one, a
>> > controversial and illicit scientific risk that potentiates the common
>> good;
>> > and the other, a predatory encroachment on human biopotentials for
>> > individual glory and institutional profit."
>> Dear all,
>> Bishnu raises two pretty startling outcomes. I just did a quick wiki
>> search to get some background information on Henrietta Lacks immortal
>> cell line HeLa and was  awestruck by the medical progress that has
>> been accomplished by the exploitation of her cells:
>> -the Salk vaccine
>> -AIDS research
>> -the effects of radiation and toxic substances
>> -gene mapping
>> - testing how parvo virus infects cells of humans, HeLa, dog, and cats
>> -viruses such as the Oropouche virus (OROV)
>> -study of the expression of the papillomavirus E2 and apoptosis
>> -study canine distemper virus' ability to induce apoptosis in cancer cell
>> lines
>> -cancer studies including those involving sex steroid hormones such as
>> Estradiol,    -estrogen, and estrogen receptors along with estrogen
>> like compound such as Quercetin
>> -effects of flavonoids and antioxidants with estradiol on cancer cell
>> proliferation.
>> investigation the phytochemical compounds and the fundamental
>> mechanism of the anticancer activity of the ethanolic extract of mango
>> peel
>> -in vitro cancer research using cell lines
>> -used to define cancer markers in RNA, and have been used to establish
>> an RNAi Based Identification System and Interference of Specific
>> Cancer Cells
>> Not to condone the use of Henrietta Lack's bio material but was
>> wondering what you thought about the tension between the risk culture
>> and the medical outcomes above. How do we ethically balance risk
>> culture with potential medical advances that save lives? On the other
>> hand how do we handle cell contamination and the problem that HeLa
>> strain cells have infiltrated into other cell strains?
>> Renate
>> Renate Ferro
>> Visiting Assistant Professor of Art
>> Cornell University
>> Department of Art, Tjaden Hall Office #420
>> Ithaca, NY  14853
>> Email:   <rtf9 at cornell.edu>
>> URL:  http://www.renateferro.net
>>       http://www.privatesecretspubliclies.net
>> Lab:  http://www.tinkerfactory.net
>> Managing Co-moderator of -empyre- soft skinned space
>> http://empyre.library.cornell.edu/
>> http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Empyre
>> _______________________________________________
>> empyre forum
>> empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au
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>> _______________________________________________
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>> empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au
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> --
> Stewart Auyash, MPH PhD
> Associate Professor and Dept Chair
> Dept of Health Promotion and Physical Education
> Hill Center 7
> Ithaca College
> 953 Danby Rd |  Ithaca, NY 14850
> 607-274-1312
> _______________________________________________
> empyre forum
> empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au
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