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Disputing the boundary of pluripotency. The Italian public debate on amniotic fluid-derived stem cells

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Amniotic fluid-derived stem (AFS) cells were the first non-embryonic source of pluripotent stem cells discussed in Italy. AFS cells have been defined “ethical stem cells”, a socio-technical label denoting an array of cellular reprogramming techniques, biological artifacts, and somatic stem cells which make it possible to obtain pluripotent stem cells while avoiding the use of human embryos. The alleged pluripotent status of these cells triggered a debate in which pluripotency was re-positioned as the most promising feature of stem cells. This debate was characterized by discursive articulations in which the boundary between multipotency and pluripotency was blurred and a discourse on a duopoly of pluripotency (pertaining both to embryonic and non-embryonic stem cells) ensued. Drawing on qualitative discourse analysis of articles in scientific journals and newspapers, this paper explores the cultural meaning and political uses of these discursive articulations in the Italian stem cell research regulation debate. This paper also examines a set of aporias emerging from the attempt to incorporate ethical stances into the biological ontology of ethical stem cells, and the problem of constructing normativities in the biotechnology field.
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Keywords: Italian stem cell debate and regulation; amniotic fluid-derived stem cells; ethical stem cells

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Institute for Advanced Studies on Science, Technology and Society (IAS-STS), Graz, Austria

Publication date: December 1, 2013

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