Nobel Conference 53Reproductive Technology: How Far Do We Go?
October 3 & 4, 2017

From artificial insemination to in vitro fertilization to contraception, reproductive technologies have long raised a host of complex scientific, social, and ethical questions. New techniques and technologies, such as genome editing and mitochondrial transfer, complicate those questions even further. The 53rd Nobel Conference invites participants to consider how continuing innovations in reproductive technology challenge us to think about what it means to be human.

How have scientific and technological discoveries assisted, transformed, and suppressed reproduction, and how will they continue to shape age-old debates about fertility and reproduction, motherhood and fatherhood? How safe are new techniques and what might be their impact on human health and social health? Who decides which technologies to develop, how they are funded, and who should have access to them? This conference will explore the science of these emerging technologies and delve into the ethical complexities and social consequences that result when we reshape a process so central to human life.

Nobel Conference 53 will bring together an interdisciplinary panel of scholars and scientists from around the world to consider not only how far we can go but how far we should go.


Jad Abumrad (photo by Marco Antonio)Jad Abumrad
National Public Radio

Jad Abumrad is the founder, producer and co-host of Radiolab, a program and podcast on National Public Radio. Radiolab describes itself as “a show about curiosity. Where sound illuminates ideas, and the boundaries blur between science, philosophy, and human experience.” Abumrad is the recipient of a 2011 MacArthur grant for his work creating Radiolab. He is also a composer and musician.

 Abumrad will speak on the importance of understanding science as embedded in human experience and as part of larger philosophical inquiries about life.

Diana BlitheDiana Blithe
National Institutes of Health

Diana Blithe is program director for the Male Contraceptive Development Program at the National Institutes of Health. As the co-director of the Contraceptive Clinical Trials Network, she oversees clinical trials to evaluate the safety and efficacy of new contraceptive agents for men and women. Blithe’s work as a program director has given her a perspective on crucial questions about why and how particular contraceptive research gets funded. Blithe’s scientific expertise includes biochemistry, endocrinology, and glycobiology.

Blithe will report on the current state of research on male contraceptives.

Alison MurdochAlison Murdoch
Newcastle University

Alison Murdoch is Professor of Reproductive Medicine at Newcastle University and qualified as a gynaecologist and fertility clinician. She founded Newcastle Fertility Centre @ Life within Newcastle Hospitals NHS Trust. The team has a long standing successful history of embryo based research. Murdoch’s main role has related to the social and ethical implications of the work and management of the regulatory aspect of getting research approval. She is one of the first people in the world to have been granted approval to clone human embryos for the purpose of research. More recently, Murdoch is a part of the team of researchers who have been at the forefront of developing IVF technology to prevent transmission of mitochondrial disease. She is past Chair of the British Fertility Society and past member of the Nuffield Council on Bioethics.

Murdoch will address pre-implantation embryo research and mitochondrial transfer concentrating on the ethical and regulatory processes that impact such research in the UK.

Charis ThompsonCharis Thompson
University of California, Berkeley

Charis Thompson is the Chancellor's Professor and Chair of Gender & Women's Studies, and a former founding director of the Science, Technology, and Society Center at the University of California, Berkeley, as well as Professor of Sociology, London School of Economics and Political Science.

A social theorist, her current book in progress, Getting Ahead, focuses on the relation between science, technology, democracy and inequality in an age of populism and technology elites. Getting Ahead is the third in her book series on science and democracy. The first, Making Parents: The Ontological Choreography of Reproductive Technologies (2005), won the Rachel Carson Prize from the Society for the Social Study of Science, and examined reproductive technologies as a new mode of (re)production. The second book, Good Science: The Ethical Choreography of Stem Cell Research (2013), proposed a geopolitical and bioethical theory of bio-innovation economies based on the moral and economic frame of being "pro-cures". 

Thompson serves on the Nuffield Council on Bioethics Working Group on Genome Editing, and on the World Economic Forum's Global Technology Council on Technology, Values, and Policy, as well as UC Berkeley's Stem Cell Research Oversight Committee, and the faculty advisory board of the Center for Race and Gender.

Thompson will address the co-emergence of reproductive, regenerative, and genomic technologies in an age of artificial intelligence and machine learning, and the challenges and opportunities to living well with these technologies, regardless of the circumstances of one's birth.

Ruha BenjaminRuha Benjamin
Princeton University

Ruha Benjamin is associate professor in the Department of African American Studies at Princeton University and 2016-17 fellow at the Institute for Advanced Study. She is the author of People’s Science: Bodies and Rights on the Stem Cell Frontier, as well as numerous articles and book chapters that examine the social dimensions of biotechnology.

Benjamin’s talk will propose a justice-oriented approach to reproductive technologies.

Jacob CornJacob Corn
University of California, Berkeley

Jacob Corn is Scientific Director of the Innovative Genomics Initiative. His laboratory, which includes branches at UC Berkeley and UC San Francisco, conducts core basic research on the CRISPR/Cas9 genome editing technique. Corn has also conducted pioneering work using CRISPR/Cas9 to treat diseases such as sickle cell anemia, an illustration of the priority he places upon the clinical implementations of this basic research. He has written thoughtfully on limiting the use of CRISPR/Cas9 in the human germline until we can better delineate safe and ethical parameters for its use.

Corn will discuss the future of genome editing by addressing questions such as: How does genome editing work? How is it accelerating biomedical research? How can it be used to cure disease? What are potential ethical concerns with its use in humans?

Marsha SaxtonMarsha Saxton
World Institute on Disability

Marsha Saxton is the director of research and training at the World Institute on Disability and also an instructor in disability studies at the University of California, Berkeley. She has written three books, two films, and more than one hundred articles and book chapters about disability rights, personal assistance, women's health, employment, violence prevention, and genetic screening issues. She has written extensively on the topic of disability rights and selective abortion.

Saxton will discuss the views and experiences of people with disabilities in relation to genetic and reproductive technologies. Her talk will address topics such as: how current cultural values inform attitudes about disability and influence the science and industries of these technologies; how cultural values are underlaid by ancient history and the history of eugenics; and methods to engage and alert the public to ethical problems associated with reproductive technologies. 


The Nobel Conference Mission

The Nobel Conference brings students, educators and members of the general public together with the leading thinkers of our time, to explore revolutionary, transformative and pressing scientific questions and the ethical issues that arise with them.