Fat is the future: bioprospecting, fat stem cells, and emergent breasted materialities



Publication Details

Ehlers, N. 2014, 'Fat is the future: bioprospecting, fat stem cells, and emergent breasted materialities', in C. E. Forth and A. Leitch (eds), Fat: Culture and Materiality, Bloomsbury, London. pp. 109-122.

Additional Publication Information

ISBN: 9780857856166


Within breast reconstruction technologies, abject fat has become an ever-commodifiable unit of biovalue that is understood as endlessly malleable and to promise a bright new future of breasted materiality – and corporeal ‘wholeness’ – following breast cancer surgery. Fat transfer – known as autologous reconstruction – understands and deploys fat as capital, with certain ‘fatty’ parts of the body outsourced and rearranged to make new (and organic) ‘breasts.’ Fat grafting repurposes unwanted body fat and, through lipofilling, is used to add volume or correct a breast contour problem after lumpectomy or reconstruction. Such fat can potentially become an endless fount, with the harvested material banked for future use (such as with the U.S. FDA-registered Liquid Gold™ mini-fat bank). Most recently, new research has looked to use fat stem cells to regenerate tissue damaged through radiation, and new techniques of fat autogenesis will transform the future of breast reconstruction, potentially enabling fat cells to be implanted into a breast-shaped mold on the chest and new fatty-tissue grown into a ‘breast.’ This paper is concerned with analyzing the following questions in the context of these technologies: in which ways and under what conditions can ‘fat as abject’ become ‘fat as biovalue’; what forms of subjectivity are invited and enabled via these technologies; what forms of biosociality are imagined in response to these technologies; and, importantly, how is the body understood and experienced, and what emergent (and contingent) forms of materiality are produced when the protean substance ‘fat’ becomes biovalue to be harvested from the body precisely in order to ‘make the body whole again’?

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