Umbilical cord blood: Identifying the communal in global UCB banking

You are invited to the public lecture that is part of the 2019-20 Sadler Seminar Series.

This event will be held in room 3.01 (seminar room 1) in Clothworkers Building South

Since the 1990s, initiatives of banking umbilical cord blood (UCB) have mushroomed, including forms of public banking, family or private banking, and hybrid banking.

Traditionally, blood has many social and cultural connotations, but awareness of the use of UCB for therapeutic and research purpose has grown over the last decades.

Since sourcing began in the 1990s, the status of UCB has altered from ‘waste’ to ‘gift’, from ‘gift’ to ‘commodity’, and in some cases, it has been taken out of circulation to be hoarded as form of expensive security. Its collection from families generally relies on the connection of UCB with intimate cultural bonds expressed through the notions of gift, saving, security, insurance and solidarity for and with family, community and, also, strangers. At the same time, however, UCB banking has become part of a global banking, therapy and life science industry.

Against this background, this lecture will discuss how the meaning of the notion of blood has been changing over the last decades in the globalising world of UCB banking. The lecture explores how the various models of UCB banking mobilise traditional societal ties of people with their communities, and what these practices actually mean in terms of the needs of community members, including, for instance, ethnic minorities and the various socio-economic segments of society; secondly to what extent we can speak of Western and Asian models of UCB banking. Examining examples of UCB banking in Asia, the question is raised on how the ‘gift’ of UCB figures locally and in the context of global complexities and opaqueness of the global blood industry.

Margaret Sleeboom-Faulkner is Professor of Social and Medical Anthropology at the University of Sussex (Brighton, UK). Her work concerns processes of nation-state building in China and Japan and biotechnology and society in Asia. 

Margaret’s research projects concern international life science networks in the fields of biobanking and biomaterials, and stem cell therapies and experimentality (funded by the ERC and ESRC respectively). In these projects she combines anthropological approaches and social studies of science.

This event is part of the Sadler Seminar series, Vital Circulations: Bodily Fluids in Bioeconomy, supported by the Leeds Arts and Humanities Research Institute.