Doctoral candidate Beth Bloch successfully defended her dissertation, "The Values and Ethics of Biomedical Engineering Practices in the Design of Novel Biotechnologies," on November 13.
Her committee included Assistant Professor Peter Darch (chair); Professor Michael Twidale; Colleen Murphy, Roger and Stephany Joslin Professor of Law and professor of philosophy and political science at the University of Illinois; and Katie Shilton, associate professor of information studies at the University of Maryland.
Abstract: Many novel biomedical technologies currently in development within university-based laboratories across the United States. They are designed to provide cutting-edge diagnostics and treatments to patients within clinical settings. In this project, the laboratory design practices of two types of biomedical engineering groups are examined. Cellular biomedical engineering laboratories develop novel cell-based technological systems used for genetic engineering, synthetic biomaterials, and nano-sized drug delivery systems. Biomedical device engineering laboratories develop novel device-based technological applications used in conjunction with MRI machines, ultrasound devices, and prosthetic apparatus. The findings of this study are based on 300+ hours of laboratory observations, 44 semi-structured interviews, and hundreds of pages of document analysis. They suggest that the laboratory research and development activities of both cellular biomedical engineers and biomedical device engineers implicate the values of responsibility and transparency. These implications are the result of laboratories trying to meet the expectations of institutional actors encountered along the NIH Roadmap of Translational Medicine. Cellular biomedical engineers are found to not view themselves as designers of technology, and do not think of patients as the imagined end-user. Biomedical device engineers perceive core devices altered with novel applications remain safe for continued clinical use and engage in practices which devalue biology and turn complex physiological processes into abstract representations. Proposed ethics-based design interventions position biomedical engineering laboratories within a sociotechnical context and target both the laboratory level and institutional level.