Finland is a homogeneous population of about 5.5 million people, geographically isolated from the rest of the world. The vast majority of Finns share a common heritage, and they also seem largely willing to participate in clinical health studies. Three out of four Finns will agree to be a research subject, and thankfully, access to their clinical records is relatively easy, for both domestic researchers and foreign scientific collaborators. After thousands of years of isolation, Finns have become a relatively uniform population, genetically speaking. Additionally, the genealogies of Finns trace back numerous generations and hundreds of years, providing plenty of correlated genetic information and an excellent source of scientific data to study.

This case study examines the impact of Finland’s unique genetic resources, and its implications for global biotech policy.

The basis of the Industrial Revolution in the 18th century was the reliance on physical machinery to dramatically increase the productivity of industries ranging from textiles to transportation. The development of autonomous machines that can learn, recognize patterns and make complex decisions marks the next phase of automation. Cognitive computing applies software solutions to tasks that could not ordinarily be accomplished without human intervention. Applications range from driverless cars, face recognition algorithms, and natural language processing to data mining and algorithmic high-frequency trading. The global market for smart machines is already a multi-billion dollar industry that is expected to grow by double digits over the next few years. The automation of knowledge-based work will have broad effects on society, increasing economic productivity and providing a cornucopia of wealth.

This case study examines the impact of advanced cognitive computing on society, science, policy, ethics and more.

Biotechnology, as all sciences, advances step by step and builds on fortuitous and often serendipitous discoveries. In 1951, a woman named Henrietta Lacks was diagnosed with cervical cancer, and a sample of her cancerous tissue cells were taken — without her knowledge or consent — and grown in a petri dish. For decades prior, scientists had been trying to keep human cells alive under laboratory conditions without success, but the tumor cells taken from Henrietta Lacks exhibited a remarkable ability to grow and thrive. These HeLa cells became the first immortal human cells ever grown in a laboratory. Since 2001, five Nobel prizes have been awarded based on research performed with HeLa cells. Trillions of HeLa cells have been bought and sold and used in medical studies all over the world, and they continue to contribute to the advancement of medicine and biology.

This case study examined the history and impact of HeLa cells and their unique policy implications.

Just as the Gutenberg printing press paved the way for information and ideas to be spread by allowing mass communication, the advent of 3D printing brings the ability for anyone to share design concepts and create physical goods on demand, anywhere. However, intellectual property policies have hindered the 3D printing industry, and increasingly restrictive policies could harm this innovation in unintended ways.

This case study examines the reach and impact of 3D printing, and its implications in the world of copyright, patent and trademark policy.

We live in a genomic age. The amount of important medical and biotech research happening today involving genes is staggering.  And much of it goes back to the Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR). The seeds of PCR development can be traced back to the 1970s, and the practical PCR machinery that fueled a biotechnology revolution started running in the 1980s. This innovation was quickly recognized with a Nobel prize in 1993, only about 10 years after its invention and approved patent application. PCR has accelerated the pace of innovation in biotech, and its contribution to society is immense.

This case study examines the impact of PCR and its wide availability to scientists.

Blockchain technology is the distributed database that underlies digital cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin. Various consensus algorithms can create distributed ledger systems to achieve a verifiable public record of transactions, replacing trust in people or institutions with a trust in mathematics. All of these technologies provide an extremely useful solution for keeping a reliable record of digital information — a practical answer to the theoretical conundrum known as the Byzantine Generals Problem. Keeping track of digital tokens in order to prevent double-spending is the most obvious application, but blockchain technologies allow for any kind of transaction without a requirement for a trusted third party, intermediaries or centralized authority. Hundreds of digital currencies based on blockchain technologies are valued in the billions of dollars with over 100,000 merchants accepting bitcoins, but the applications extend beyond digital cash.

This case study examines the impact of blockchain technology’s impact beyond just its use for digital currencies like Bitcoin.