Wellcome Trust Symposium and The Curious Museum of Personal Medical Devices

Wellcome Trust Symposium on New Conceptual Approaches to Personal Medical Devices

18th-19th September 2014
Post-doctoral Suite, 16 Mill Lane, University of Cambridge, Cambridge

Fuelled by the accelerating pace of technological development and a general shift to personalised, patient-led medicine alongside the growing Quantified Self and Big Data movements, the emerging field of personal medical devices is one which is advancing rapidly across multiple domains and disciplines – so rapidly that conceptual and empirical understandings of personal medical devices, and their clinical, social and philosophical implications, often lag behind new developments and interventions. Personal medical devices – devices that are attached to, worn by, interacted with, or carried by individuals for the purposes of generating biomedical data and/or carrying out medical interventions with/on the person concerned – have become increasingly significant in clinical and extra-clinical contexts owing to a range of factors including the growth of multimorbidity and chronic disease in ageing populations and the increasing sophistication and miniaturisation of personal devices themselves.
The aim of this symposium is to consider recent theoretical developments in the humanities and social sciences in relation to personal medical devices, and to address important gaps in understanding such as the differences between wearable and non-wearable devices, the ontological implications of personal devices for concepts of the body, the self, and technology, and the extent to which such questions may arise with particular force owing to ‘new’ technologies.
The symposium takes place at the University of Cambridge over two days, with the first day consisting of papers and keynote presentations, and with the second day consisting of further discussion and a concluding panel of invited discussants from a range of backgrounds including computing science, clinical medicine, technology, and philosophy.
The symposium combines invited and submitted papers from established and emerging scholars to consider how recent theoretical literature can shed light on current debates surrounding personal medical devices these and other important issues. Some of the questions that papers may address include:
•       How ‘personal’ are personal medical devices?
•       How new are ‘new’ medical technologies?
•       What are the implications of personal medical devices for enduring philosophical dualities such as mind/body and self/society?
•       What are the implications of personal medical devices for understandings of illness, medicine, and technology?
•       How can the interaction of diverse theoretical perspectives drive new conceptual understandings of personal medical devices?
Registration only £15 – includes lunches, refreshments, and drinks reception. Register here if interested:


As part of the Symposium, we are hosting a multidisciplinary panel discussion inspired by Radio 4’s Museum of Curiosity – i.e. we are asking panellists to suggest technologies that they believe merit inclusion in a virtual museum, in this case of personal medical devices. The idea is to encourage interdisciplinary discussion in an interesting and fun manner.

We wanted to open an invitation to members of the Quantified Self network who might be interested in putting forward their own suggestions of personal medical devices that have somehow defined a particular medical (or related) field or which they see as of particular significance. As long as they are attached to, carried by, worn on, or otherwise interact with individuals, the devices can be of any kind whatsoever – past or present (or future!), small or large (within reason), automated or ‘dumb’, simple or complex. They don’t even have to be ostensibly ‘medical’ devices as long as a rationale can be made for their serving medical ends – i.e. Jawbones, Fitbits, Garmin all welcome!

We would be very grateful if you would consider contributing. If possible, we would like suggestions to be passed on by 8th September, accompanied by a short piece of text (e.g. up to 300 words) making a case for the device’s inclusion. Suggestions would be displayed at the symposium, online, and in future events. In order to illustrate the kind of thing we are looking for, I have included below the suggestion received from Professor Simon Griffin of the Primary Care Unit, University of Cambridge.

We hope you will consider being involved in this way in what promises to be a very interesting and stimulating event.

Best wishes,
Conor Farrington and Rebecca Lynch

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