What is 'civic translational science' and how is it more readily achieved?
July 2 2009
Seminar Room 1.06,
ESRC Innogen Centre,
Old Surgeons' Hall,
High School Yards,
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ESRC Innogen Centre, Edinburgh University
"What is 'civic translational science' and how is it more readily achieved?"
This paper is concerned with the elaboration of the concept of 'civic translational science'. This is accomplished by presenting a case study of a large-scale Canadian scientific network that has -among other things- developed a bioinformatics tool designed to facilitate investigations into gene-gene and gene-protein interactions and pathogenomics pathways. Understanding these interactions and pathways is one of the crucial next steps in making sense of the gigantic amount of genomic information resultant from the Human Genome Project, and is likely to be key for systems levels analyses that are needed for a genomic understanding of the functioning of pathogens and potential therapeutic or prophylactic targets.
This bioinformatics tool is a database, and like all other modern databases many of its powers and potentialities are wrapped-up with storage, synthesis, retrieval, and comparative abilities that computers and computer software programs so effectively harness. However, this database has also been constructed as a platform technology for a community of immunologists who are interested in the innate - rather than adaptive - immune system as well as those interested in systems biology more generally. The creation of free and publicly accessible tools that facilitate future knowledge creation and/or discovery by other members of the research community is one of the - but not the only - key characteristics of what we are calling 'civic translational science'. The development of this concept is motivated in part by a desire to understand novel knowledge production practices in the post-genomic era, which are largely facilitated by such bioinformatics tool. Further, a broadening of what is understood as 'translational science' may work to temper or ballast science policy expectations that are increasingly demanding translational outcomes from project funding.
In line with existing scholarship on the role of users in the development and deployment of techno-sciences (i.e. the edited volume How Users Matter by Pinch and Oudshoorn, 2003), findings suggest that numerous processes effectively configure the emerging bioinformatics technology to the needs of its prospective users. Specifically the case demonstrates the importance of limited release strategies, and shows that those who are most likely to use the techno-science are most equipped to shape its content. An examination of the application of infovis principles in the development of the analysis tools within the platform suggests that this is not this is not a one-off case, but instead a fundamental element likely to shape bioinformatics and civic translation alike. While the iterative movements between bedside and bench (and back again) can be shown in clinical case studies, which are mirrored by bench-to-bedside (and back again) movements in the commercial case study, this case of the development of bioinformatics tools suggests that civic translational science could be characterized by the movements between developers and a host of prospective users (and back again).