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Stem Cell Research in Context

1 April 2006 - 30 March 2009

PI/s in Exeter: Professor Christine Hauskeller

Funding awarded: £ 246,953

Sponsor(s): ESRC

Project webpage(s)

Stem Cell Research in Context

About the research

Funder: Our research has received £258,000 from the Economic and Social Research Council as part of its Social Science Stem Cell Initiative.


The UK and Germany currently represent opposite ends of a spectrum of restrictions applied to stem cell science in Europe. Different regimes of governing research on human embryos have been established since 1990. These facilitate embryonic stem cell research in the UK and largely restrict it in Germany. Consequently, the UK has invested substantially in embryonic stem cell research while Germany has strongly supported research using adult stem cells. Using ethnographic methods, this project analysed the ways in which practices of public governance influences the conduct of stem cell research in both everyday laboratory activity and the configuration of stem cell research as a scientific field. It investigated how the infrastructure of stem cell science, its research questions, its objects and routines are shaped by national and international legal regulation, ethical discourses, science policies and professional backgrounds.

The project addressed the following questions:

  • How do practices of public governance influence research questions and practices in stem cell science?
  • How are different fields of stem cell science affected by legal and ethical regulation and science policies?
  • Does ‘stem cell science’ represent a homogeneous field of scientific inquiry or is it an expression of a particular science policy agenda?

Aims and Objectives:

  • Examined research practices in different areas of stem cell science in the UK and in Germany
  • Presented case studies on the relationship between stem cell science and legal regulation, ethical discourses and science policies
  • Analyzed how national and EU regulation, and ethical, institutional, and economic factors shape the pathways of the science and its research practices

Research Methods:

  • The project combined ethnographic observations, interviews and case studies.
  • We collaborated with teams in German and UK stem cells laboratories and clinics.
  • Our data covers embryonic to adult and basic to applied stem cell science.  

Key Findings:

Findings from the clinical and ‘adult’ research strand: Case study on clinical trials with autologous bone marrow (BM) stem cells for heart repair

  • The integration of EU medicinal products and tissue and cells regulation into legislative instruments has taken distinct routes in the UK and Germany.
  • Germany has attempted to streamline the regulation of cell therapies, while the UK operates with an assemblage of regulatory mechanisms. We found different ways of dealing with ambiguities in the regulation of novel cell therapies.
  • In both countries, regulatory practice represents an integral part of how clinical staff make sense of what they do. Regulatory practice feeds into the organisation of research, for instance, infrastructures for bone marrow transplantation are used to articulate the novel use of stem cells in heart repair as regulated practice.
  • Clinical teams use regulation to accord credibility to their practice and to reinforce the boundaries between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ applied stem cell science. In the German case, this is set within more crystallised structures of regulated research practice. In the UK case legitimacy has been negotiated through the alignment of regulatory mechanisms and emergent research activities.

Project Update:

Since the beginning of the project in October 2006 we have:

  • Reviewed the scientific and governance literature
  • Completed 11 periods of observation in clinics and laboratories in the UK and Germany
  • Carried out 60 in-depth interviews with research team members across research sites and with experts and practitioners in regulation of science and medicine in both countries
  • Given more than 20 presentations to scientists and at workshops and conferences
  • Contributed to several advisory and expert statements on stem cell policy. Most recently an overview of the status of UK stem cell science as part of a comparative research report on ‘Stem Cells and Embryo Protection’ for the Austrian government.

Professor Tanja Krones invited us to collaborate with the Bioethics-Clinical Ethics Unit at the University of Marburg on a project funded by the Stem Cell Network North-Rhine-Westphalia. This research included carrying out a survey amongst stem cell researchers in Germany and German stem cell researchers abroad concerning their perception of the status of German stem cell research and their working conditions.

We organized:

  • Training workshops on Critical Social Science’ (November 2006) and Regulation of Stem Cell Science (23-25 January 2007)
  • The CBAR workshop Cellular Spaces (30 June -01 July 2008), in collaboration with Julie Kent from the University of the West of England
  • Conference panels at the EGN Network Conferences in 2007 and 2008.
  • We also co-organized with CESAGEN the Stem Cells Festival and Ethnography training day (Cardiff 22-23 March 2007). 

Dr Hauskeller and Dr Weber travelled to Berlin in January 2009 to give expert evidence to the German Central Ethics Commission on Stem Cell Research (ZES) at the Robert Koch Institut. The ZES is the national institution of ethical oversight for research with embryonic stem cells in Germany and it must approve all research projects involving embryonic stem cells.

Evidence to the ZES (in German).



  • 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.
  • Wilson-Kovacs, D and Hauskeller, C, ‘The clinician-scientist: professional dynamics in clinical stem cell research‘, Sociology of Health and Illness, 2011 Vol 34 (4), published online 30 August 2011. 
  • Wilson-Kovacs, D., Weber, S., Hauskeller, C. ‘Autologous Stem Cell Clinical Trials in Heart Repair: Regulation as Interactional Accomplishment’, Sociology of Health and Illness 32(1), 2010.
  • Hauskeller, C. ‘Regulierung der Stammzellforschung – Wie Großbritannien in Verfahren zur Ethischen Urteilsfindung investiert’. In Joerden J. C. (Ed), ‘Stammzellforschung in Europa’ in der Reihe ‘Studien zu Ostmitteleuropa’ Peter Lang Publishers, 2009, pp115-141.
  • Weber, S., Wilson-Kovacs, D., Hauskeller, C. ‘The Regulation of Autologous Stem Cell Therapies: Comparing the UK and Germany’, Conference Proceedings of Ethical and Legal Aspects of Research with Human Tissue in Europe. 1st International Conference of the Tiss. EU Project, Goettingen, 2008 
  • Samusch, T. Budiner, I. Weber, S., Busch, A., Knappertsbusch, F., Schlüter, E., Hauskeller, C., Krones, T.’Ansichten von in Deutschland arbeitenden Wissenschaftlern in der Stammzellforschung zur Lage der Stammzellforschung in Deutschland’. Jahrbuch für Wissenschaft und Ethik Vol. 13, 2008, pp: 237-262.
  • Grießler, E., Hauskeller, C., Lehner, D.,  Metzler, I., Pichelstorfer, A., Szyma, A.’Stammzellen und Embryonenschutz, Status quo, Rechtsvergleich und öffentliche Debatte am Beispiel ausgewählter europäischer Staaten’, Report on the status of stem cell science in selected countries for the Austrian Government, 2008. Published on the web-page of the Austrian Bundeskanzleramt.
  • Hescheler, J. and Hauskeller, C. 'Von der Grundlagenforschung in die Klinik: Probleme und Möglichkeiten der Stammzelltherapie'. Bundesgesundheitsblatt, Special Issue on Stem Cell Research, 51, 2008, pp:1014–1020.
  • Hauskeller, C.  and Harrington, J. ‘The death of the Frankenbunny?’  Reply to the Response of the Scottish Council on Human Bioethics. The Newsletter of the ESRC Genomics Network, Issue 8, 2008, pp: 28 – 30.
  • Harrington, J. and Hauskeller, C., ‘The death of the Frankenbunny?’  The Newsletter of the ESRC Genomics Network, Issue 7, 2008, pp: 15-17.
  • Krones, T., Samusch, T., Weber, S., Budiner, I., Busch, A.,  Knappertsbusch, F. and Schlüter, E., Hauskeller, C., 'Brain Drain in der Stammzellforschung? Erste Ergebnisse einer Befragung von Wissenschaftlern zur Lage der Stammzellforschung in Deutschland', Invited expert paper for Bundesgesundheitsblatt, Special Issue on Stem Cell Research,  51, 2008, pp:1039–1049.
  • Hauskeller, C. 'Menschenwürde, Freiheit der Forschung und Missbrauchsgefahr', Berlin-Brandenburgi-sche Academy of the Sciences (Eds), Stem Cell Supplement to the Gene Technology Report, 2006, pp: 141-164.
  • Hauskeller, C. ‘Science in Touch. Functions of biomedical terminology’, Biology and Philosophy, 20/4, 2005, pp: 815-835.
  • Hauskeller, C. ‘The language of stem cell science’, in W. Bender, C. Hauskeller and A. Manzei (Eds), Crossing Borders. Grenzüberschreitungen, Münster: Agenda Verlag, 2005, pp: 39-60.
  • Hauskeller, C. with Bender, W. and Manzei A. (Eds.) Crossing Borders. Grenzüberschreitungen: Cultural Religious and Political Differences Concerning Stem Cell Research. A Global Approach, Münster: Agenda Verlag, 2005.

Conference and Workshop Presentations

  • Wilson-Kovacs, D. and Hauskeller, C. ' The (re)production of regulation: The clinical implementation of adult stem cell treatments in the UK and Germany, EGN conference (7th -9th October 2009).
  • Ahmad, A. ' Islamic medical embryology', International Asian conference, Bhutan (9th September 2009).
  • Wilson-Kovacs, D. and Hauskeller, C. ' Professional roles and self understanding in stem cell research for heart repair: The challenges of collaborative enterprise', BSA Medical conference, University of Manchester (4th September 2009)
  • Liverani, M. 'The regulation of biotechnology in the European Union', Summer School, Institute of Policy Management, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing, 8th June 2009.
  • Harrington, J. ' Making sense of research using autologous stem cells for heart repair: A translational approach, University of Exeter, HUSS Postgraduate conference, 26th May 2009.
  • Liverani, M. 'Towards a sociology of European integration' HUSS Postgradute conference, University of Exeter, 26th May 2009.
  • Wilson-Kovacs, D. 'From sperm to techno semen: Scientific objects and commodification of male reproductie technologies', Negotiating Identity: Objects and Methods of Reproduction in 20th Century Life Sciences Workshop, Egenis/Max Plank Institute, Exeter, 3rd April 2009.
  • Hauskeller, C. ‘Regulating populations: access to ART?’ Negotiating Identity: Objects and Methods of Reproduction in 20th Century Life Sciences Workshop, Egenis/Max Plank Institute, Exeter, 3rd April 2009.
  • Harrington, J. 'Animal models in the laboratory', Negotiating Identity: Objects and Methods of Reproduction in 20th Century Life Sciences Workshop, Egenis/Max Plank Institute, Exeter, 3rd April 2009.
  • Liverani, M. ' Life in the age of its mechanical prodcution', Negotiating Identity: Objects and Methods of Reproduction in 20th Century Life Sciences Workshop, Egenis/Max Plank Institute, Exeter, 3rd April 2009.
  • Ahmad, A. ' Metaphysics in scientific medicine;, Postgraduate conference, Peninsula Medical School, Plymouth, 23rd February 2009.
  • Weber, S., Wilson-Kovacs, D, and Hauskeller, C.  ‘Regulatory Landscapes: Comparing the Regulation of Novel Cell Therapies in Germany and the UK’, Invited talk at the Institute for Science and Society, University of Nottingham, 27th November 2008.
  • Hauskeller, C. ‘Genome knowledge and species identity’, EGN Conference London, 27th October 2008
  • Harrington, J. ‘Translational Space’: Stem Cell Treatment of the Heart, Egenis Seminar, Exeter, 21st October 2008
  • Hauskeller, C. ‘Bioscience, Regulation, and the Borders of Humanity’, Deutsche Gesellschaft für Philosophie Congress, Düsseldorf, 18th September 2008.
  • Wilson-Kovacs, D., Harrington, J., Weber, S., and Hauskeller, C.  ‘Making Sense of Clinical Trials Using Autologous Stem Cells for Heart Repair’, BSA Medical Sociology Annual Conference, Sussex, 5th September 2008.
  • Wilson-Kovacs, D., Weber, S., and Hauskeller, C. ‘Recycling Cells and Making Cakes in Britain and Germany: The Regulatory Shaping of Stem Cell Applications in Cardiac Repair’ Acting with Science, Technology and Medicine, 4S/EASST Annual Meeting, Rotterdam, 23rd August 2008
  • Hauskeller, C. ‘Molecular ultimacy? Changing understandings of pluripotency’ Cellular Spaces: A CBAR Workshop on Cells, Egenis, Exeter, 1st July 2008.
  • Weber, S. and Wilson-Kovacs, D. ‘Splitting cells: autologous stem cell practices in Germany and the UK’ Cellular Spaces: A CBAR Workshop on Cells, Egenis, Exeter, 30th June 2008.
  • Weber, S., Wilson-Kovacs, D., and Hauskeller, C. ‘The Regulation of Autologous Stem Cell Therapies: Comparing the UK and Germany’, First International Conference of the Tiss.EU Project, Goettingen, 27th July 2008.
  • Ahmad, A. ' Clinical ethics', Imperial College, University of London, 30th June 2008.
  • Harrington, J. ‘Translational Space’: Theoretical and methodological Considerations Presentation of research to date, Egenis, Exeter, 28th April 2008.
  • Wilson-Kovacs, D., Weber S., and Hauskeller, C. ‘Stem Cell Research Agendas: Regulation as Culture in Practice’, Genomics and Society: Setting the Agenda International Conference, Centre for Society and Genomics and EGN-Network, Amsterdam, 18th April 2008.
  • Hauskeller, C. ‘Science policy effects on scientific creativity: German and Japanese innovations in pluripotency’, Genomics and Society: Setting the Agenda International Conference, Centre for Society and Genomics and EGN-Network, Amsterdam, 17th April 2008.
  • Wilson-Kovacs, D., Weber, S., and Hauskeller, C. ‘The regulation of autologous stem cell clinical trials’, Egenis, Exeter, 15th April 2008
  • Hauskeller, C. and Harrington, J. ‘Knowledge Criteria in Stem Cell Science’, UK National Stem Cell Network Inaugural Conference, Edinburg, 10th April 2008.
  • Ahmad, A. 'Ambiguity in the name of the human embryo', One World conference, University of Calgary, 13th November 2007.
  • Liverani, M. ‘Eurogenes and eurocells: how the integration project affects scientific research in Europe’ Egenis Seminar, Exeter, 13th November 2007.
  • Hauskeller, C. ‘The Battle over Ethics and Regulation’, Battle of Ideas, Podium Discussion, London, 26th October 2007
  • Wilson-Kovacs, D., Weber, S. and Hauskeller, C. (2007) ‘In and beyond the Laboratory: A Comparative Perspective on the Regulation of Stem Cell Research Practices in a Trans-National Context’ Genomics and Society: Today's Answers, Tomorrow's Questions, EGN Conference, 25th October 2007.
  • Hauskeller, C. 'Ethics on the Lab Floor', Stem Cell Festival, University of Cardiff, 22nd March 2007.
  • Liverani, M. ‘The science and politics of stem cell research in Italy’.  Governing Genomics: Interdisciplinary Perspectives on the Regulation of the Biosciences Egenis 3rd International Conference, Exeter, 26th January 2007.
  • Hauskeller, C. ‘The Special Status of the Human Embryo’ and ‘Umbilical Cord Blood and Foetal Stem Cells – Politics’, The Regulation of SC Research, ESRC CBAR Workshop, Egenis, Exeter, 23rd January 2007.
  • Hauskeller, C. ‘Values and Social Change: Evaluation of SC Science. Germany and the UK’ ELSA Conference European Cultural Perspectives, University of Basel, 20th November 2006.
  • Hauskeller, C. ‘Moral Imperialism - the Policing of Global Stem Cell Science’ PROPEUR Final Conference, Centre for Global Ethics, University of Birmingham, 22nd September 2006.

User and Public Engagement

  • 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.
  • Weber, S. Einflusswege der regulatorischer Rahmenbedingungen auf die embryonale Stammzellforschung: Deutschland und England im
    soziologischen Vergleich’ Presentation for the Zentralen Ethik- Kommission fuer Stammzellenforschung (ZES), Berlin, 21st January 2009.
  • Hauskeller, C. 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.
  •  Hauskeller, C. 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.
  •  Hauskeller, C. BBSRC/MRC Stem Cell Dialogue Bristol – Expert talk and discussion with publics, 3rd May 2008
  •  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.
  •  Hauskeller, C. Knowledge Criteria in Stem Cell Science, Plenary Speech at Launch Conference UK Stem Cell Network, Edinburgh, 10th April 2008.
  • Wilson-Kovacs, D. BBSRC/MRC Stem Cell Dialogue Newcastle – Expert talk and discussion with publics, 5th April 2008.
  • Weber, S. BBSRC/MRC Stem Cell Dialogue Bristol – Expert talk and discussion with publics, 29th March 2008.
  • Wilson-Kovacs, D. Presentation of findings to the British Cardiovascular Collaborative on Stem Cells and the Heart, 6th March 2008.
  • Hauskeller, C. Die Stammzelldebatte in Grossbritannien’, Presentation at the Public Conference ‘Das Kreuz mit den Stammzellen’, Evangelische Akademie Wittenberg Lutherstadt, 3rd November 2007.
  • Hauskeller, C. Radio interview: News Hour on the BBC World Service, on the Regulation of ESC Research and Hybrids, 4th September 2007.
  • Hauskeller, C. The Hard Cell  Cheltenham Science Festival, Panel with Prof. Colin Blakemore Dr Chris Mason and Lord Robert Winston, 16th July 2007.
  • Hauskeller, C. The Stem Cell Debate, Cardiff Techniquest, Panel with Sir Martin Evans and Dr Nick Allen, 18th October 2006.


Project Poster presentations

  • BBSRC Third Cross Council Stem Cell Initiative Grantholders' workshop, Manchester, July 2006.
  • 25 years of Stem Cell Science, University of Cambridge, December 2006.
  • Governing Genomics: Genomics and Society, Third International Egenis Conference, Exeter, January 2007.
  • Autologous Stem Cells for Cardiovascular Disease conference, Tortworth Hall, June 2007.
  • Genomics and Society: Today's Answers, Tomorrow's Questions, ESRC Genomics Network conference, London, October 2007.
  • Cross Council Stem Cell Grant Holders' workshop, University of Warwick, December 2007
  • Genomics and Society: Reinventing Life? ESRC Genomics Network conference, London, October 2008.

Educational Activities
‘Human Embryos or Hybrids?’ Christine Hauskeller and Jean Harrington have developed an educational role-play, used for teaching ethics in the Peninsula Medical School. The role-play involves students in ethical decision-making processes and provides a practical introduction to the ethical implications of current stem cell science.

Economic and Social Research Council