Between 1994 and 1995, the discovery of two gene mutations—BRCA1 and BRCA2, combined with a genetic test, led to the creation of a clinical practice centered on diagnosing and managing genetic risk for breast cancer. The discovery of the BRCA genes is framed as a model of how genetic knowledge and technologies can be swiftly “translated” into improved health outcomes for patients, despite the fact that the role of genes in common diseases has come under scrutiny following the completion of the Human Genome Project in 2003. Examining what Michel Foucault terms as the “conditions of emergence” for a genetic theory of breast cancer, this project employs close textual analysis of newspapers, press releases, and scientific research articles to critically examine the link between the discovery of the BRCA genes and translational research. Tracing the shifting relationship between genes and cancer this project explores the impact of public criticisms on post-genomic research, describing emergent research norms, values, and epistemic commitments for translational actors, including scientists and patient advocacy groups.
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Thesis advisor: Patton, Cindy
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