20 January 2016

Liminal Spaces Project: Report on First Advisory Board Meeting

By Annie Sorbie

One year into the Liminal Spaces Project, there has been a distinct air of industry amongst the team as it moves apace towards the next phase in Year 2. The scene was set for the first external Advisory Board Meeting, which took place at the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh on 13 January 2016.

The inaugural year’s aims have been achieved; including, identification of each member’s research objectives, and the production of a detailed co-authored concept paper.  The concept paper sets out the team’s multi-disciplinary approach to liminality and establishes concrete ways that this anthropological concept can offer insights into health research regulation, and vice versa. The team has also gone beyond these year one aims, for example by producing an article analysing a European Court of Human Rights case judgement on organ transplantation (the article is currently in press for Medical Law International), and by submitting a co-authored paper on social value to another peer-reviewed journal.

The team welcomed two of the Advisory Board members to the National Museum of Scotland: Aiden Courtney, Chief Executive of Roslin Cells, and Dr Mark Taylor, of Sheffield University’s School of Law. Dr Taylor chaired the meeting and provided a positive space to reflect on the work done and consider the next steps.  The team offers our sincere thanks to both Mr Courtney and Dr Taylor, whose expertise and insight proved invaluable.

The Liminal Spaces Project’s Principal Investigator, Professor Graeme Laurie, reiterated the aims of the project and how it aligns with the Wellcome Trust’s interests and vision of realising extraordinary improvements in human health. Each team member delivered a presentation about their work to date and their plans for 2016.

Dr Samuel Taylor-Alexander first outlined his rare disease research, including how rare diseases can challenge the fabric of regulation that was developed with common diseases in mind. Next, Dr Agomoni Ganguli Mitra, a bioethicist, explained how, in her justice-based work, she will establish a conceptual, analytical and normative framework, to explore the space in between vulnerability and empowerment. Edward Dove, who has a law background, will use liminality as a methodology in his work in relation to NHS Research Ethics Committees, while Catriona McMillan, also a lawyer, focusses her work on liminality in action, as seen in the example of the human embryo. Dr Isabel Fletcher’s interests lie in medical sociology, and more particularly on the formation of national and international food policy, dovetailing with the Wellcome Trust’s environment, nutrition and health theme, while Nayha Sethi, who will join the project in April 2016, outlined how she will build on her work on the Scottish Health Informatics programme (SHIP), also a Wellcome Trust funded project, and which will draw on her legal and governance expertise. Finally, Annie Sorbie, the newest team member joining from 15 years of experience in legal practice, outlined her interests in relation to the concept of the public interest and public engagement in health research regulation.

While the brief description above does none of the comprehensive presentations justice, it serves to give a flavour of the work underway, and to highlight both how the concept of liminality is a common strand that runs through the team’s work, but also the breadth of the topics where this can be applied.
So, what does 2016 hold for the Liminal Spaces team?  In a nutshell, we have an ambitious agenda for the next year, which will include delivering initial findings from the individual projects. The team has a firm focus on stakeholder engagement and real world impact – accessibility is integral to the project, and not just a 'nice to have'. We are immersed in preparations for the World Congress of the International Association of Bioethics (IAB), which we are hosting in Edinburgh from 14-17 June (http://iab2016.com) and are excited about the opportunities for networking and knowledge exchange that such a prestigious event will bring to our home city.

In conclusion, a belated Happy New Year from all of us to all of you - we wish you a productive and stimulating 2016 and look forward to seeing you at IAB, if not before. In the meantime, if you have any queries about the Liminal Spaces Project, please do not hesitate to contact the team: mason.institute@ed.ac.uk.

Find out more about the Liminal Spaces Project at http://www.liminalspaces.ed.ac.uk/