Workshop: Microchimerism and human health: Bridging the gaps between anthropology and medicine

Microchimerism is derived from the Greek words “micro” (μικρός) meaning “small” and “chimera” (Χίμαιρα) based on a fire-breathing hybrid creature of Greek mythology composed of different animal parts. When adopted by biologists, microchimerism is simply a small number of cells inside your body that are not your own. This phenomenon is well known during pregnancy where a bidirectional exchange occurs between maternal and fetal cells. Evidence shows that microchimeric cells can persist in host bodies for decades, potentially even for the host’s entire lifetime. Yet, the current understanding of microchimerism is puzzling and little is known about the role microchimeric cells play in host physiology. Microchimerism may have benefits to mother and offspring, including exchanging of immunological protection and helping . However, microchimerism has also been implicated in autoimmune disorders and pregnancy complications, such as pre-eclampsia. With current implications on human health, microchimerism is an emerging field of human biology. However, what is missing from microchimerism research is the anthropological perspective that is vital to understanding human health. Specifically, there has been little discussion concerning the ethics in human biosample data collection (i.e., maternal blood and cord blood are needed to differentiate between maternal and fetal cells); terminology used to identify pregnant participants as well as to describe them without pathologizing mothers; and data storage practices (i.e., genetic information). While this workshop focuses on microchimerism research, these questions are relevant to all bodies of research that center on human pregnancy and maternal health. The ultimate goal is to foster relationships between anthropologists and biomedical researchers and to encourage anthropological perspectives within the medical setting.

Thursday, March 21, 2024, 12:15-2:15pm

Organized by Amy Boddy (University of California Santa Barbara), Kristine Chua (University of California Santa Barbara)