For some people, intel­lec­tual prop­erty is about faster com­puters and better apps. But for Kara Swanson, a new pro­fessor at the North­eastern Uni­ver­sity School of Law, it’s about body prod­ucts — literally.

She’s writing a book, “Banking on the Body,” that looks at how human anatomy — every­thing from blood to kid­neys — has been made into prop­er­ties that can be bought and sold on the market.

The idea that we would take bits of our bodies and say they’re prop­erty that can be traded on world mar­kets for x amount of money like oil or hog futures is repel­lant and upset­ting,” she says. “But the process of taking some­thing that isn’t usu­ally regarded as prop­erty and making it into prop­erty through law and other insti­tu­tions is sim­ilar to the idea of taking an intan­gible idea and making it into prop­erty, which is the role of intel­lec­tual prop­erty law.”

To write the book, Swanson, who earned a Ph.D. in the his­tory of sci­ence from Har­vard Uni­ver­sity, is drawing on her doc­toral dis­ser­ta­tion, “Body Banks: A His­tory of Milk Banks, Blood Banks and Sperm Banks in the United States.” Before coming to North­eastern, Swanson was the Berger-​​Howe Vis­iting Fellow in Legal His­tory at Har­vard Law School and asso­ciate pro­fessor at Earle Mack School of Law, Drexel University.

The term bank in this con­text was first used to describe the col­lec­tion and storage of blood before expanding to describe other banks for sperm, eggs, and human milk. As tech­nology and sci­ence allowed banks for body fluids and organs to evolve, body banks also began to treat body prod­ucts in property-​​like ways, she says.

For example, 100 years ago, being on the receiving end of a blood dona­tion meant lying beside the donor as his or her blood was pumped into your veins, in a direct, body-​​to-​​body con­nec­tion. But after sci­en­tists fig­ured out how to keep drawn blood from clot­ting, donated blood could be stored in bot­tles, and used as anony­mous med­i­cine. As body banks became insti­tu­tion­al­ized through society and law, the banks acted as a bar­rier between the donor and the recip­ient, keeping the two par­ties from knowing each other.

We ended up thinking of body parts in terms of mon­e­tary banks. What­ever you put in you’ll get out,” Swanson says. “The bank helped reduce anx­iety about using body prod­ucts as medicine.”

Through her his­tor­ical analysis, Swanson hopes to “denat­u­ralize” what has become a “nat­ural” way of thinking about blood banks and other such banks. And by bringing her work to prac­ti­tioners, and “let­ting them know what you’re doing now has a past that helps you think about your present,” new reg­u­la­tions may result.

See selected worksby Kara Swanson to read more­about her research.