‘Big Tissue’ - the promise and achievement of significant upscale in tissue engineering and biofabrication – is a coming force in biomedicine. This project agrues that Big Tissue represents both a quantitative change (more tissue) and a qualitative change (novel socio-material relationships, politics, and ethics) that require urgent attention as they come into being.
The project is conducting interview, documentary, and observational analysis of four case-studies of fields seeking to produce industrial quantities of tissue for diverse uses: cultured blood, cultured skin, cultured meat, and biofabricated animal products. It is assessing the social, material, and economic context of Big Tissue today and defining the agenda for social science analysis of Big Tissue going forward.
Big Tissue invokes a new wave of bigness to follow the ‘big biology’ of the Human Genome Project and the ‘big data’ of bioinformatics. It represents a paradigm shift in tissue engineering and biofabrication from personalised, autologous, or small-scale interventions towards mass-produced, centrally devised, generic tissues that can be engineered through a diverse range of techniques drawing upon bioprinting, cell suspension bioreactors, and the intersections of synthetic biology and fermentation. Upscale brings with it the potential for novel conceptualisations of tissue and its affective relations, novel promissory narratives, and novel economic and material models of exchange and value.
By analysing and comparing across these four case-studies the analysis of these emergent and imagined socio-material contexts and their implications for societies, economies, and ethics is being subject to critical inspection.
- Stephens, N., Sexton, AE. and Driessen, C. (2019) 'Making Sense of Making Meat: Key Moments in the First 20 Years of Tissue Engineering Muscle to Make Food'. Frontiers in Sustainable Food Systems, 3 (45). pp. 1 - 16. ISSN: 2571-581X
- Stephens, N., Dunsford, I., Di Silvio, L., Ellis, M., Glencross, A. and Sexton, A. (2018) 'Bringing cultured meat to market: Technical, socio-political, and regulatory challenges in Cellular Agriculture'. Trends in Food Science & Technology, 78. pp. 155 - 166. ISSN: 0924-2244