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Bionetworking: Experimental stem cell therapy and patient recruitment in India

Authors: Patra, P.K. and Sleeboom-Faulkner, Margaret.


Over the last three to four years, an increasing number of private and public sector tertiary level hospitals and research centres in India have been using stem cell therapy,especially adult stem cell therapy, in the guise of experimental therapy for a variety of medical conditions. The promotion and growth of this experimental field across local and national borders traverses regulatory, ethical, social and financial boundaries. In this complex context, the article examines how health care centres in India negotiate bio-medical and health care circumstances in promoting a therapy that raises questionable medical, technical and ethical issues. The process of promoting experimental stem cell therapy is explained here by employing the concept of bionetworking and illustrated by two case studies of hospital groups. The case studies show how through bionetworking a centre creates and maintains novel networks of mutual exchanges with other collaborative bodies situated in local, national and global echelons. Drawing on a three-month period of fieldwork and interviews in various locations in India, this article shows that: (1) Questionable stem cell therapy is promoted through bionetworks that resonate across local, national and global constellations; (2) Regulatory gaps facilitate the growth of such therapeutic practices; (3) The experimental stem cell therapies augment the health care divide in Indian society; (4) The weakening Indian state facilitates commercialization of health, indirectly supporting the bionetworking practices of therapy providers.