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Egenis · Events

Egenis/Centre for Medical History seminar with Dr Alison Kraft ‘From "desperate measure" to "curative intent": Bone marrow transplantation, c. 1957-1977’

Seminar   26.01.2012






Dr Alison Kraft, Egenis

Organised by



University of Exeter

Amory Building Room 115

Event details

Time: 1:00 - 2:30pm


This paper takes as its focus bone marrow transplantation (BMT) which today is used to treat a number of blood cancers. This technique is examined from two different, but linked perspectives. The paper begins by exploring its emergence within radiobiological research during the 1940s and 1950s. The ‘bone marrow experiment’, as it was originally called, was devised initially as a research tool for studying the effects of ionising radiation on the blood system. Unexpectedly, however, this technique also provided a ‘window’ onto the long-theorised blood stem cell. The paper argues the importance of BMT in engendering and stabilising a particular conceptualization of this cell and examines the implications of this for the field we now call stem cell biology. BMT was also immediately recognised to have potential clinical use as an improved therapy for leukaemia – a form of cancer that came to new prominence in the 1950s. In the clinical setting, BMT constituted a highly innovative approach which combined radiotherapy with tissue transplantation and which, for the patient, was very dangerous. Finally, the paper situates BMT within the history of cancer therapy, emphasizing how BMT enabled radiation to be used in a new way and analysing the articulation from the 1960s onwards between BMT and chemotherapy. More broadly, the paper considers how the development of BMT reflected the very distinctive context within which it emerged: that of the ‘atomic age’ and the Cold War.

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