Challenges of informed consent in return of data from genomic research

Genomic data, including findings incidental to the purpose for which a study is undertaken, can contain information of use and importance to research subjects related to their health, lifestyle, and reproductive choices. A growing consensus among expert groups is that at least some information from genomic studies should be available to participants. It seems clear that the return of results from genomic studies should and will require the informed consent of research subjects.

However, there are a number of challenging issues that must be addressed with regard to obtaining meaningful consent from subjects, including the content of the consent process, minimizing adverse consequences from an expanded consent process, special issues relating to biobanked samples, and considerations regarding children, decisionally impaired persons, and deceased subjects. The aims of this study are:

  1. To develop a menu of potential approaches for dealing with the key challenges regarding informed consent that must be addressed before widespread efforts to return genomic data are put into place, based on an analytic review of the normative and empirical literatures
  2. To obtain the perspectives of genomic investigators and research subjects on these issues, their suggestions for addressing them, and their thoughts about the menu options, in a series of semi- structured interviews and surveys
  3. To formulate a series of discussion papers that outline the challenges, consider the options for response, offer recommendations for realistic approaches to address these challenges and suggest a policy-relevant research agenda.

To address the complex challenges of informed consent, the research team will use a combination of analytic and empirical strategies. Based on an analysis of the existing literature, we will develop menus of alternative approaches to consent in commonly occurring genomic research situations. The menus of options for these situations will then form the basis for semi- structured interviews and internet-based surveys of genomic researchers and research subjects to identify the probable advantages and disadvantages of the alternative approaches. Integrating these data into the previously developed analysis of alternatives, realistic options will be identified. When neither normative argument nor empirical evidence allows plausible conclusions to be drawn about the most desirable options, suggestions will be offered regarding further normative and empirical investigation. Findings will be embodied in a set of three discussion papers that will be reviewed by experts in genomic research and bioethics. After incorporating their feedback, the papers will be made available on the internet, submitted for publication in the medical and bioethical literatures, and presented at relevant professional meetings.