This empirical and normative bioethics research project will guide policy and practice about the disclosure of genomic incidental findings (GIFD), a much-debated topic. With ethical guidance from a multidisciplinary ELSI Working Group, we will conduct an experiment designed to develop strategies for offering incidental findings to family members of probands in a biobank for pancreatic cancer. Our approach will be informed by studying the preferences of biobank research participants (including kin).To our knowledge, no previous research has addressed the return of incidental findings to families. Yet biobanks face this question. Recommendations to guide practice are sorely needed. Mayo Clinic has collected germline DNA of pancreatic cancer probands in an NCI-funded SPORE biobank created for gene discovery. While seeking novel pancreatic cancer variants, we have identified 73 probands who are germline carriers of mutations in genes known to confer increased risk of diseases other than pancreatic cancer: BRCA2 (breast &ovarian cancer), CDKN2A/p16 (malignant melanoma), and CFTR (cystic fibrosis in offspring). Because these mutations are routinely disclosed in clinical practice and have serious health and/or reproductive implications, consideration of GIFD is justified. Given that the majority of the pancreatic cancer probands are deceased, many concerns arise: Who should be offered the findings, given that notification of the proband's legal next of kin may not assure that biologically at-risk family members are informed? Since relatives were not involved in the original biobank informed consent process, how should re-contact be managed? What disclosure proce- dures best meet family members'concerns? Is there an ethical threshold for determining when the researcher is obligated to offer GIFD? A partnership among 3 PIs-a genetic epidemiologist who directs the SPORE biobank (Gloria Petersen), an empirical researcher (Barbara Koenig), and a bioethics and law scholar (Susan Wolf)-combines the strengths of Mayo Clinic and the University of Minnesota (UMN). This project leverages the infrastructure of the SPORE biobank at Mayo Clinic and UMN's Consortium on Law and Values'history of NHGRI-funded work on incidental findings. This project addresses a critical problem in translational genomics research ethics.
The Specific Aims -which combine descriptive and normative objectives-are: (1) to assess preferences of pancreatic cancer probands and their family members using a) interviews and b) a survey;(2) to conduct an in-depth ELSI analysis with an expert law and bioethics Working Group, leading to consensus recommendations;(3) based on the findings from Aims 1 and 2, to prototype and evaluate a procedure for offering findings to family members of probands who carry germline mutations;and (4) to develop "best practice" guidelines. This project will generate much-needed data on proband and family preferences, produce detailed analyses of the legal and ethical issues raised, create consensus recommendations, devise methods for honoring preferences, and advance sound biobank governance.
A goal of this project is to understand whether the family members of participants in cancer biobank research wish to be told about unanticipated genetic findings-a contested topic. Leaders in law, bioethics, and genetics, working with patient advocates, will consider the preferences of cancer patients and family members, asking: what is the right thing to do? In a first-of-its-kind study, they will next develop-and go on to test- procedures to offer information about unexpected findings to future research participants. The results of this study will have a direct impact on: (1) genetics and cancer researchers, and, (2) participants in biobanks and genetic research, including cancer patients and their families.
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|Wolf, Susan M; Annas, George J; Elias, Sherman (2013) Point-counterpoint. Patient autonomy and incidental findings in clinical genomics. Science 340:1049-50|
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