Scientist analyzes DNA gel used in genetics, forensics, drug discovery, biology and medicine

Transplant Genomics: Ethical, Legal, and Social Implications

By Tamar Schiff

The appeal of precision medicine is of particular significance in transplantation. Treatment options are already integrally dependent on genetic factors – the donor-recipient match – and the demand for transplantable tissues far outstrips the available supply.

And the potential is only growing. Advances in genetic and genomic studies have identified an increasing number of novel biomarkers of potential use in transplant-related care. These include predictors of disease course, graft survival, response to immunosuppression, and likelihood of disease recurrence or other complications.

With wider availability of sequencing technologies and innovations in databanking, future clinical applications in transplant care may require ever-growing considerations of the significance of genetic variants, fair access to precision medicine therapeutics and participation in research, ethical approaches to data aggregation, and social determinants of health.

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Person typing on computer.

Online Terms of Use for Genealogy Websites – What’s in the Fine Print?

By Jorge L. Contreras

Since genealogy websites first went online, researchers have been using the data that they contain in large-scale epidemiological and population health studies. In many cases, data is collected using automated tools and analyzed using sophisticated algorithms.

These techniques have supported a growing number of discoveries and scientific papers. For example, researchers have used this data to identify genetic markers for Alzheimer’s Disease, to trace an inherited cancer syndrome back to a single German couple born in the 1700s, and to gain a better understanding of longevity and family dispersion.  In the last of these studies, researchers analyzed family trees from 86 million individual genealogy website profiles.

Despite the scientific value of publicly-available genealogy website information, and its free accessibility via the Internet, it is not always the case that this data can be used for research without the permission of the site operator or the individual data subjects.

In fact, the online terms of use (TOU) for genealogy websites may restrict or prohibit the types of uses for data found on those sites.

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Close up of a mosquito sucking blood on human skin. This mosquito is a carrier of Malaria, Encephalitis, Dengue and Zika virus.

Responsibly Developing Gene Drives: The GeneConvene Global Collaborative

By James Toomey

Researchers believe that gene drives could eliminate vector-borne diseases such as malaria, by modifying mosquito species or eradicating those that carry disease, kill off invasive species, and combat the growing problem of pesticide resistance.

A gene drive is a technique for genetically modifying entire species of wild organisms. Genetically modified individuals of the species are released into the wild, so as to raise the probability that a particular gene will be passed onto the species’ progeny via reproduction.

Over the course of many generations, the gene — even if detrimental — can spread to an entire population.

But as of now, this is all hypothetical. No gene drive has been tested in the wild, and many people are skeptical that they should ever be used.

The GeneConvene Global Collaborative, a project of the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health, was started this past July to promote the responsible development and regulation of gene drive technologies. It brings together researchers, regulators and stakeholders around the world to develop best practices for gene drive research and implementation.

Because of my prior writing on this topic, I participated in GeneConvene’s fall webinar series and spoke with scientists there about the project. Read More

Doctor, DNA, microscope concept illustration.

Legislative Success in FL Suggests Time is Ripe for Further Genetic Nondiscrimination Protections

By Anna C F Lewis and Anya E R Prince

On July 1, a law banning the use of genetic information by life, long-term care, and disability income insurers took effect in Florida.

Florida’s success marks a potential turning point of bipartisan appeal for this issue.

The passage of this law, which we explore in a recent article published in Genetics in Medicine, the official journal of the American College of Medical Genetics and Genomics (ACMG), was propelled by a campaign that argued that an individual’s DNA should not be weaponized against them, that affordable insurance shouldn’t just be for the genetic elite, and that an individual should be able to keep their genetic data private.

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Illustration of a man and a woman standing in front of a DNA helix

Research Reveals Potential Concerns About Genetic Testing for Suicide Risk

By Brent Kious, Anna Docherty, Leslie Francis, Teneille Brown, Jeffrey Botkin, Douglas Gray, Brooks Keeshin, Louisa Stark, Brieanne Witte, and Hilary Coon

Companies that offer direct-to-consumer genetic testing (DTC-GT) will soon be able to provide scores that estimate suicide risk.

Our recent study, appearing in Genetics in Medicine, the official journal of the American College of Medical Genetics and Genomics (ACMG) raises ethical questions about how these risk scores will be understood.

The causes of suicide are complex. Many risk factors intersect: psychiatric symptoms like depression, different life stressors, family history, access to lethal firearms, and substance abuse, among many others.

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Doctor and patient.

Previvorship and the Legal Doctrine of Informed Consent: Video with Valerie G. Koch

The Health Law Policy, Bioethics, and Biotechnology Workshop provides a forum for discussion of new scholarship in these fields from the world’s leading experts.

The workshop is led by Professor I. Glenn Cohen, and presenters come from a wide range of disciplines and departments.

In this video, Valerie Gutmann Koch gives a preview of her paper, “Previvorship and the Legal Doctrine of Informed Consent,” which she will present at the Health Law Policy workshop on November 23, 2020. Watch the full video below:

graphic of DNA fingerprinting

Responsibility, culpability, and parental views on genomic testing for seriously ill children

Janet Malek, PhD
Center for Medical Ethics and Health Policy, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, TX

Imagine being a parent and finding out your child is seriously ill.  Imagine how it feels to sit in a chair in the doctor’s office and hear the news that your child has cancer.  Imagine the worry and guilt you might feel and how these thoughts and emotions might shape your reactions to whatever comes next.

Being a parent comes with a special set of obligations to protect and promote the well-being of your child. A cancer diagnosis puts those obligations front and center, making it impossible to repress questions about what you could have done differently and what you can do to help your child moving forward.

Enter genome-scale sequencing (GS).  Both sequencing of blood – sometimes called germline sequencing (to find gene changes that the child was born with and that might be passed from parent to child) as well as tumor sequencing (to find gene changes that happen randomly in the cells of the body which may cause the tumor to develop) are being used more and more often in clinical settings.  The idea is that this genetic information will help doctors discover what caused a patient’s condition and give clues about how to treat it, even for cancer.  Parents are increasingly be given the option to have their child undergo GS as the technology becomes less expensive and more useful.

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Image of binary and dna

Assessing genetic relationships between academia and industry

By Kayte Spector-Bagdady JD, MBioethics
Department of Obstetrics & Gynecology; Research Ethics Service, Center for Bioethics & Social Sciences in Medicine, University of Michigan Medical School, Ann Arbor, MI

With recent reports of Google’s data deals with Ascension health and the University of Chicago, there has been a lot of attention paid recently to the sharing and use of health data by unexpected entities.

But we know that patients are uncomfortable when hospitals “commercialize” or sell their health data or biospecimens to industry. In fact, the recent revisions to the human subjects research regulations included a specific biospecimen commercialization disclosure requirement.

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close up of DNA fingerprints

DNA databases, cracking crimes, and confidentiality

By: Leslie E. Wolf, JD, MPH, Georgia State University College of Law, Interim Dean and Distinguished University Professor and Laura M. Beskow, MPH, PhD, Ann Geddes Stahlman Chair in Medical Ethics, Center for Biomedical Ethics and Society, Vanderbilt University Medical Center

In our article, Genomic databases, subpoenas, and Certificates of Confidentiality, published in Genetics in Medicine, the official journal of the American College of Medical Genetics and Genomics (ACMG), we considered the protections available to research genomic databases in light of law enforcement’s use of ancestry databases to help solve crimes.

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Scientist analyzes DNA gel used in genetics, forensics, drug discovery, biology and medicine

Time to Ban Heritable Genome Editing

By Jeffrey R. Botkin, MD, MPH, Professor of Pediatrics and Medical Ethics at University of Utah

We are at a critical crossroad in reproductive medicine.  How should science and society more broadly manage the powerful new technologies that can alter the genes of human embryos?  In a recent paper published in Genetics in Medicine, the official journal of the American College of Medical Genetics and Genomics (ACMG), I argue that banning the use of this technology editing human embryo is the right direction.

Concerns over theoretical capabilities of “designer babies” have been with us for generations.  The ability screen and test for embryos and fetuses with undesirable characteristics and forestall their birth is well-developed and familiar. But the actual ability to add, subtract or alter genes in the embryo is quite new.  The CRISPR-Cas9 technology and related technologies burst on the scene in the last decade and the ability to relatively easily and cheaply to alter human embryos is no longer science fiction.

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