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Biomodifying technologies at the HeLEX centre at the University of Oxford

Dr Michael Morrison discusses his work at HeLEX, aiding innovation in biomedical technologies and developing biomodifying technologies

Dr Michael Morrison is Senior Researcher in Sociology with the Centre for Health, Law and Emerging Technologies (HeLEX) in the Faculty of Law at the University of Oxford and Associate Fellow at the Institute for Science, Innovation and Society, School of Anthropology and Museum Ethnography, at the same institution.  Michael obtained his MA and PhD from the Institute for Science and Society at the University of Nottingham and has worked in the Science and Technology Studies Unit (SATSU) at the University of York and the ESRC Centre for Genomics in Society (Egenis) at the University of Exeter before moving to Oxford in 2012.

His work deals with the social dynamics of innovation in biomedical technologies, where he has worked on a range of topics including human enhancement, tissue banking, genetics/genomics, and regenerative medicine. Michael’s current work explores how potential clinical applications of new technologies are shaped by scientific, regulatory, economic, and cultural factors, focusing on three interrelated case studies: induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSC), genome editing using CRISPR-Cas9 and similar tools, and 3D printing of living biological material.

These developments can all be described as ‘biomodifying technologies’, that is, those that modify living biological tissue in novel and increasingly patient-orientated and customised ways. Biomodifying technologies are important in a scientific and medical sense but also because of their potential to reshape the landscape of biomedical innovation in the 21st century.

They are foundational or ‘gateway’ technologies, with wide-ranging applications, significant commercial engagement and high levels of transferability, which open up far-reaching possibilities. The three case study technologies stand alone, but can also interact with each other – for example, gene-edited iPSC lines are already being developed as research tools and 3D printing is being designed to create bio-structures from differentiated iPSC. Alone or in combination these technologies carry significant promise, but also pose new challenges to existing pathways for developing, assessing, delivering and paying for medical innovation.

This work is supported through two funded projects. “Biomodifying technologies and experimental space: Organisational & Regulatory Implications for the Translation & Valuation of Health Research” (2017-2020) funded by the UK Economic and Social Research Council (Grant no ES/P002943/1), and “BioGOV: Governing Biomodification in the Life Sciences” (2018-2021) funded by the Leverhulme Trust (Grant no RPG-2017-330). Both projects are collaborations between the Universities of Oxford, Sussex and York.

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