Hard wired pathways: The relation between immunological and molecular research at the Netherlands Cancer Institute
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Like in many biomedical domains, in oncology multiple sub-disciplines are active. Among others, molecular biologists and immunologists study cancer and aim to develop novel therapies. The recent clinical successes of immunotherapy considerably improved the credibility of tumour immunologists, which triggers the shifting of disciplinary boundaries. Taking the relation between immunological and molecular research at the Netherlands Cancer Institute as a case study, this thesis provides insight into the relation between biomedical sub-disciplines. Building on the work of Latour, Gieryn, Fleck, and Laudan, Part I of this thesis describes the outcomes of an anthropological field study performed at the institute’s Divisions of Immunology and Molecular Carcinogenesis in 2014. A comparison of these divisions shows that their relation was asymmetrical in 2014. While the immunologists have integrated multiple aspects of molecular theory and methodology in their daily routine, no evidence was found for the opposite. Based on a combination of archival sources and oral histories, Part II sets out to give a historical explanation of this asymmetry. It describes how the new molecular approach united former virologists, cell biologists and geneticists in the ‘80s and how this approach could turn into the new standard at the institute, despite of the fact that the first molecularly targeted therapies only hit the clinic in the late ‘90s. In so far the immunologists did not meet the new molecular standards, their credibility was considerably reduced. Hence, in the ‘90s the new generation of immunologists aimed to integrate aspects of the molecular approach into their work. Conversely, the molecular biologists could permit themselves to ignore the immunologists and their studies. No credibility was to be gained by adopting aspects of the immunological approach, which explains the asymmetric relation between both sub-disciplines at the Netherlands Cancer Institute.