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Immunitary bioeconomy: The economisation of life in the international cord blood market


  • Brown, Nik
  • Machin, Laura
  • McLeod, Danae


This paper examines an emerging bioeconomy centred on the international banking and trade in cord blood. Since the late 1980s cord blood has been used in an expanding range of treatments and as an alternative to the use of bone marrow stem cells. This is particularly the case in treating ethnic minority populations who have historically been under-represented in bone marrow registries. The paper explores the mobilisation and commercialisation of an increasingly important bioeconomic resource with cord blood units trading internationally at high prices. This is a market mediated through a sophisticated global network of immunologically typed and matched bodily matter in which immunity has become a form of 'corporeal currency'. Based on recent international figures we reflect upon the balance of trade between imports and exports across the world's cord blood bioeconomy. Theoretically, this case is, we suggest, an extension of what Roberto Esposito (2008) has termed an 'immunitary paradigm' in which immunity has become the basis for new forms of bioeconomic flow, circulation and exchange. Esposito (2008). Bios: Biopolitics and Philosophy. Minnesota, MN: University of Minnesota Press.

Suggested Citation

  • Brown, Nik & Machin, Laura & McLeod, Danae, 2011. "Immunitary bioeconomy: The economisation of life in the international cord blood market," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 72(7), pages 1115-1122, April.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:socmed:v:72:y:2011:i:7:p:1115-1122

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Atkin, Karl & Ahmad, Waqar I. U. & Anionwu, Elizabeth N., 1998. "Screening and counselling for sickle cell disorders and thalassaemia: The experience of parents and health professionals," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 47(11), pages 1639-1651, December.
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    Cited by:

    1. Machin, Laura L. & Brown, Nik & McLeod, Danae, 2012. "Giving to receive? The right to donate in umbilical cord blood banking for stem cell therapies," Health Policy, Elsevier, vol. 104(3), pages 296-303.
    2. Petersen, Alan, 2013. "From bioethics to a sociology of bio-knowledge," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 98(C), pages 264-270.


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