The project "Storing Vitality, Ensuring Health" forms part of the ERC-funded research project "CRYOSOCIETIES - Suspended Life: Exploring Cryopreservation Practices in Contemporary Societies".
Umbilical cord blood (UCB) is a rich source of haematopoietic (i.e.
blood-forming) stem and progenitor cells used in treating a variety of
serious disorders. Collection takes place by immediate clamping of the
umbilical cord after birth. In the early 2000s, regenerative medicine
emerged as a promissory biomedical field and speculation about future
treatments using stem cells fuelled the rapid rise of commercial cord
blood banking. Private cryobanks provide services for autologous
applications (i.e. using one’s own UCB) for either specific disease
indications (cancer or rare genetic diseases) or anticipated
regenerative therapies that might be available in the future (to cure
conditions ranging from tissue damage to neurodegenerative diseases to
The ethnographic study in this subproject will focus on the speculative value of cryopreserved UCB. By exploring the promissory dimensions of cryopreserved UCB in Germany, this case study will examine the regimes of prevention informing UCB banking. Focusing on a country with a long tradition in “social insurance” and a comparatively conservative regulatory framework in using biological material, this case study is uniquely placed to explore how the “suspended life” of UCB intersects with moral, religious, political and commercial practices. Fieldwork will be done in facilities of private and public UCB banks in Germany. It will include participant observation of the collection, testing, processing, freezing, storage and use of UCB as well as interviews with women who have banked in the cord blood banks under investigation, with staff and lab scientists involved with the processing and cryopreservation of UCB and with healthcare providers who have assisted with UCB collection.
Faculty of Social Sciences
Institute of Sociology
Research Group Biotechnologies,
Nature and Society
Campus-Westend – PEG-Building
Room 3.G 072
60323 Frankfurt am Main
PEG - internal post 31
60629 Frankfurt am Main
Tel. +49 69 798 36507