What's in a name: are cultured red blood cells 'natural'?



King E & Lyall C (2018) What's in a name: are cultured red blood cells 'natural'?. Sociology of Health and Illness, 40 (4), pp. 687-701.

The case of cultured red blood cells currently being grown in a laboratory for future use in human transfusion raises questions about the ontological status of such products of modern biotechnology. This paper presents results from a six-year ethnographic study involving interviews, focus groups and other forms of engagement with the scientific research team and other stakeholders, including public groups, which sought to understand respondents’ reactions to cultured red blood cells. These cells, derived from stem cell technology, have the potential to address the global shortage of donated blood. How these blood cells are situated within the spectrum of ‘natural’ to ‘synthetic’ will shape expectations and acceptance of this product, both within the scientific community and by wider publics: these blood cells are both novel and yet, at the same time, very familiar. Drawing on discussions related to classification and ‘anchoring’, we examine the contrasting discourses offered by our respondents on whether these blood cells are ‘natural’ or not and consider the impact that naming might have on both their future regulation and the eventual uptake of cultured red blood cells by society. [183 words]

blood; patient and public engagement; identity; stem cell research; ethnography

Sociology of Health and Illness: Volume 40, Issue 4

Publication date31/05/2018
Publication date online02/03/2018
Date accepted by journal11/11/2017

People (1)


Dr Emma King

Dr Emma King

Research Fellow, NMAHP