Social dimensions: into the panoply of precision and personalisation
Signature Project

Project leader

Associate Professor, Matthew Kearnes (UNSW)

The big questions

  • How can we understand the social dimensions of personalised and precision medicine, at the interface between bio and nano-technology? What is the significance and implications of notions of targeting, personalisation and precision in bio-nano research for the public, researchers and policymakers?
  • What does precision mean for standardising nano-experimentation?
  • How are current and future patients imagined in health planning and how does this shape nano-medicine?

Research outline

Our research is examining the connections between policies, technologies and concepts of precision and targeting. As the development of bio-nano technologies, together with advances in precision and personalised medicine, are likely to precipitate profound changes in health care practice, our social science engagement with CBNS research is designed to document the ‘imagined social worlds’ that underpin research in precision and personalised medicine, particularly in areas such as bio-nano sensor technologies, targeted cancer therapies and vaccines.

This approach is devised to provide insights into the societal dimensions of predictive and precision technologies and their implications for bio-nano technology research through collaboration with key CBNS research initiatives. These insights are gleaned from social media monitoring, ethnographic observation of CBNS research, analysis of Australian and US policies, and interdisciplinary workshops bringing CBNS researchers into dialogue with clinicians and health policy makers.

While the targeting of therapies, and the tailoring of medical practice to individual patients, has long been a goal of biomedical research, the concept of precision has taken a central place in recent science policy since President Obama announced the Precision Medicine Initiative (PMI) in January 2015.

This policy initiative builds on the mapping of the human genome using advances in computing and big data to process genomic information and progress a molecular-level understanding of disease. The PMI has spurred the creation of several large biobanks, standards for genomic screening and new cancer trials (NCI MATCH).

Patient groups, public health hospital administration, information technology companies, and advocates of rare disease have begun using the language of ‘precision medicine’ to variously promote agendas seeking efficient diagnoses, efficient care systems, and therapies targeted at individuals’ genomic and exoposomic profiles.

Developments in drug delivery, diagnostics and medical devices, alongside new modes of delivering patient care and augmenting clinical practice and decision-making are the first signs of profound changes in healthcare practices (how and by whom we are diagnosed, treated and cared by), biomedical research, and associated health and innovation policies.

Our research will provide insights into how these connections shape the societal reception of bio-nano research as a foundation for targeted and precision biomedical technologies.