Trust in Genomics: A challenge for scientists and ethicists alike

Rap Report > Trust in Genomics: A Challenge for Scientists and Ethicists Alike

Access to data and the quality of data depend partially on the quality of trust between physicians, researchers and many different patients.  When trust breaks down, patients and research subjects may request that their samples be withdrawn, or they may not provide samples and data in the first place. Technological developments that enable biomedical institutions to bank vast quantities of tissues and data today introduce new challenges to this critical project of creating and maintaining trust.  Any tissue now given for research or routine medical care technically could be used for an indefinite amount of time for entirely unforeseen purposes. In such a situation, it is hard to say that anyone understands what they are consenting to, even the researchers and physicians collecting samples and running trials.  Under these conditions, trust based in mutual understanding faces new challenges.

How to address these novel challenges will be at the center of the Science & Justice Working Group meeting on April 16, 2014, “Trust in Genomics: A Problem of Knowledge and Ethics”, 4:00-6:00PM in Engineering 2 599 on the UCSC campus. In this discussion, respected medical geneticist Wylie Burke (University Washington) and cultural anthropologist and bioethicist Barbara Koenig (UCSF) will share their experiences working with biobanks, researchers and patients to build better data sets by attending to matters of trust and respect.

Dr. Barbara Koenig, professor of medical anthropology and bioethics in the UCSF School of Nursing, is the co-Director of a newly launched research institute at UCSF dedicated to understanding the ethical, legal and social implications of translational medical genomics, The Center for Transdisciplinary ELSI Research in Translational Genomics (CT2G). By bringing together a broad, multidisciplinary range of expertise, CT2G is endeavoring to ask, and answer, questions about how genomic information will be used in a manner that benefits researchers, patients and broader publics. “A decade after the human genome was fully mapped,” Koenig argues, “figuring out how to translate genomic findings into prevention and clinical care has become a public health priority.”

Dr. Wylie Burke, Professor of Bioethics and Humanities at the University of Washington and Principal Investigator of the University of Washington Center for Genomics and Healthcare Equality, co-authored an article in Science (Trinidad et al., 2011) that highlighted the potential benefits of approaching consent (and re-consent) as an opportunity to engage with donors beyond legal formalities. She and her co-authors examine the downstream consequences of not thoroughly consenting donors for the use of their biological materials and data. Drawing on cases that have appeared in the headlines, such as the sequencing of the HeLa cell line, they examine the wide range of opinions about how best to protect patient privacy and dignity in an age when even experts cannot anticipate how biological samples might be used in the near future. In the article, they propose that “researchers and IRBs consider how the informed consent process could be used to foster respectful engagement, rather than merely mitigate risk.”

This discussion is the second in a series of discussions that the SJRC is hosting on Data Justice (see Science and Justice in an Age of Big Data: A Conversation with Peter Yu and David Haussler for a description of the first meeting held on January 22, 2014).  The meeting is co-sponsored by the Department of Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology, the Center for Biomolecular Sciences and Engineering, and the GENECATS and CANCERCATS research groups.

April 16, 2014 | Engineering 2 Room 599    


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