Technologies of living substance : tissue culture and cellular life in twentieth century biomedicine
Author(s)Landecker, Hannah L. (Hannah Louise), 1969-
Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Program in Science, Technology and Society.
Michael M.J. Fischer.
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This thesis is a historical and cultural analysis of the development of tissue culture, that is, techniques for growing living cells and tissues outside of the bodies of complex organisms. The development of these techniques represents an important epistemological shift in biology from in vivo to in vitro experimentation. This was not just a shift from use of a whole organ/organism to use of a fragment of the body, but a shift in the visualization and conceptualization of the body and its processes as they occur at the level of cells and tissues. Here it is argued that tissue culture was an essential part of a new sense of cellular life, not as a static building block of larger bodies, but as a dynamic and interactive entity which undergoes constant change, and is the functional unit of processes of growth, reproduction, aging, cancer, infection, and death. The thesis begins with an analysis of the work of embryologist Ross Harrison in growing isolated fragments of embryonic nerve tissue outside of the body in 1907. It follows the elaboration of Harrison's work by the surgeon Alexis Carrel, and the more general development of the technique over the early decades of the twentieth century. There is a close examination of the techniques for visualizing cellular life grown outside of the body, as well as the appearance of reactions to this form of life in a wider public culture. The methodological approach is a close examination of the material practices of tissue culture laboratories, and the images, ideas, and information about cells and their relation to bodies produced thereby. The movement of these ideas and images from laboratory to public culture and back is at the center of the final chapters, in which the history of the first widely used human cell line, HeLa, is examined, and more recent legal and ethical debates about the status and ownership of the Mo cell line. Rather than being a comprehensive history of tissue culture, this thesis takes historical episodes from this twentieth century biomedical practice to analyze the constitution of cellular life through the objects of tissue culture, and the ways in which these objects have been scientifically, technically, and culturally productive.
Thesis (Ph.D.)--Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Program in Science, Technology and Society, February 2000.Includes bibliographical references (v. 2, leaves 357-380).
DepartmentMassachusetts Institute of Technology. Program in Science, Technology and Society.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Program in Science, Technology and Society.