Biobank Economics and the “Commercialization Problem”

Spontaneous Generations 7 (1):69-80 (2013)
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The economic aspects of biobanking are intertwined with the social and scientific aspects. We describe two problems that structure the discussion about the economics of biobanking and which illustrate this intertwining. First, there is a ‘sustainability problem’ about how to maintain biobanks in the long term. Second, and representing a partial response to the first problem, there is a ‘commercialisation problem’ about how to deal with the voluntary altruistic relationship between participants and biobanks, and the potential commercial relationships that a biobank may form. Social scientists have argued that the commercialisation problem is inadequate as a way to construct the multiple tensions that biobanks must negotiate. We agree that the commercialisation problem is an inadequate framework; turning to alternative accounts of bioeconomy, we suggest that contemporary consideration of the economics of biobanking primarily in terms of participants and their bodily tissue may reproduce the very commodification of science that these scholars critique. We suggest that an alternative conception of the economics of biobanking beyond the logics of commodification, which may thereby allow broader questions about the social and economic conditions and consequences of biobanks to be posed.



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