Data documenting poor understanding among research participants and real-time efforts to assess comprehension in large-scale studies are focusing new attention on informed consent comprehension. Within the context of biobanking consent, we previously convened a multidisciplinary panel to reach consensus about what information must be understood for a prospective participant’s consent to be considered valid. Subsequently, we presented them with data from another study showing that many U.S. adults would fail to comprehend the information the panel had deemed essential. When asked (...) to evaluate the importance of the information again, panelists’ opinions shifted dramatically in the direction of requiring that less information be understood. Follow-up interviews indicated significant uncertainty about defining a threshold of understanding and what should happen when prospective participants are unable to grasp key information. These findings have important implications for urgently needed discussion of whether... (shrink)
Mobile devices with health apps, direct-to-consumer genetic testing, crowd-sourced information, and other data sources have enabled research by new classes of researchers. Independent researchers, citizen scientists, patient-directed researchers, self-experimenters, and others are not covered by federal research regulations because they are not recipients of federal financial assistance or conducting research in anticipation of a submission to the FDA for approval of a new drug or medical device. This article addresses the difficult policy challenge of promoting the welfare and interests of (...) research participants, as well as the public, in the absence of regulatory requirements and without discouraging independent, innovative scientific inquiry. The article recommends a series of measures, including education, consultation, transparency, self-governance, and regulation to strike the appropriate balance. (shrink)
Genomic research results and incidental findings with health implications for a research participant are of potential interest not only to the participant, but also to the participant's family. Yet investigators lack guidance on return of results to relatives, including after the participant's death. In this paper, a national working group offers consensus analysis and recommendations, including an ethical framework to guide investigators in managing this challenging issue, before and after the participant's death.
Neither the range of potential results from genomic research that might be returned to participants nor future uses of stored data and biospecimens can be fully predicted at the outset of a study. Informed consent procedures require clear explanations about how and by whom decisions are made and what principles and criteria apply. To ensure trustworthy research governance, there is also a need for empirical studies incorporating public input to evaluate and strengthen these processes.
Precision medicine research is rapidly taking a lead role in the pursuit of new ways to improve health and prevent disease, but also presents new challenges for protecting human subjects. The extent to which the current “web” of legal protections, including technical data security measures, as well as measures to restrict access or prevent misuse of research data, will protect participants in this context remains largely unknown. Understanding the strength, usefulness, and limitations of this constellation of laws, regulations, and procedures (...) is critical to ensuring not only that participants are protected, but also that their participation decisions are accurately informed. To address these gaps, we conducted in-depth interviews with a diverse group of 60 thought-leaders to explore their perspectives on the protections associated with precision medicine research. (shrink)
In qualitative interviews with a diverse group of experts, the vast majority believed unregulated researchers should seek out independent oversight. Reasons included the need for objectivity, protecting app users from research risks, and consistency in standards for the ethical conduct of research. Concerns included burdening minimal risk research and limitations in current systems of oversight. Literature and analysis supports the use of IRBs even when not required by regulations, and the need for evidence-based improvements in IRB processes.
To assist in resolving ethical questions surrounding unregulated mHealth research, we conducted in-depth qualitative interviews with experts from four key stakeholder groups: patient/research advocates, researchers, regulatory professionals, and mobile app/device developers. They discussed challenges and potential solutions in the context of two hypothetical scenarios involving unregulated mHealth research, including notifications/permissions for research use of mHealth data, data access procedures, new primary data collection, offering individual research results, and data sharing and dissemination.
Answering important public health questions often requires collection of sensitive information about individuals. For example, our understanding of how HIV is transmitted and how to prevent it only came about with people's willingness to share information about their sexual and drug-using behaviors. Given the scientific need for sensitive, personal information, researchers have a corresponding ethical and legal obligation to maintain the confidentiality of data they collect and typically promise in consent forms to restrict access to it and not to publish (...) identifying data.The interests of others, however, can threaten researchers' promises of confidentiality when legal demands are made to access research data. In some cases, the subject of the litigation is tightly connected to the research questions, and litigants' interest in the data is not surprising. Researchers conducting studies on tobacco or occupational or other chemical exposures, for example, are relatively frequent targets of subpoenas. (shrink)
Researchers now commonly collect biospecimens for genomic analysis together with information from mobile devices and electronic health records. This rich combination of data creates new opportunities for understanding and addressing important health issues, but also intensifies challenges to privacy and confidentiality. Here, we elucidate the “web” of legal protections for precision medicine research by integrating findings from qualitative interviews with structured legal research and applying them to realistic research scenarios involving various privacy threats.
Returning genomic research results to family members raises complex questions. Genomic research on life-limiting conditions such as cancer, and research involving storage and reanalysis of data and specimens long into the future, makes these questions pressing. This author group, funded by an NIH grant, published consensus recommendations presenting a framework. This follow-up paper offers concrete guidance and tools for implementation. The group collected and analyzed relevant documents and guidance, including tools from the Clinical Sequencing Exploratory Research Consortium. The authors then (...) negotiated a consensus toolkit of processes and documents. That toolkit offers sample consent and notification documents plus decision flow-charts to address return of results to family of living and deceased participants, in adult and pediatric research. Core concerns are eliciting participant preferences on sharing results with family and on choice of a representative to make decisions about sharing after participant death. (shrink)
We surveyed IRB chairs' perspectives on offering individual genetic research results to participants and families, including family members of deceased participants, and the IRB's role in addressing these issues. Given a particular hypothetical scenario, respondents favored offering results to participants but not family members, giving choices at the time of initial consent, and honoring elicited choices. They felt IRBs should have authority regarding the process issues, but a more limited role in medical and scientific issues.
Genomic research may uncover results that have direct actionable benefit to the individual. An emerging debate is the degree to which researchers may have responsibility to offer results to the biological relatives of the research participant. In a companion study to one carried out in the United States, we describe the attitudes of Canadian Research Ethics Board chairs to this issue and their opinions as to the role of the REB in developing related policy.
Recruiting research participants based on genetic information generated about them in a prior study is a potentially powerful way to study the functional significance of human genetic variation, but it also presents ethical challenges. To inform policy development on this issue, we conducted a survey of U.S. institutional review board chairs concerning the acceptability of recontacting genetic research participants about additional research and their views on the disclosure of individual genetic results as part of recruitment. Our findings suggest there is (...) unlikely to be a “one-size-fits-all” solution, but rather several ethically acceptable approaches to genotype-driven recruitment, depending on context. Disclosures made during the consent process for the original study and the clinical validity of the results are key considerations. Researchers must be prepared to communicate and answer questions in clear lay language about what is known and not known regarding the role of genetics in their proposed area of research. (shrink)