It is recognized that research on the human microbiome is important for its potential scientific and medical impact. The complexity of microbiome research, however, could change the way that genetics is studied and understood because it calls for a more complex, nuanced framework for defining and demonstrating causality. The understanding of the human microbiome could also disrupt traditional assumptions about definitions of species, self, disease and normality. It is also recognized that microbiome research can raise ethical, legal, and social issues. The mandate to study the ELSI issues of human microbiome research at this stage implicitly embraces the concept of preventive or prophylactic bioethics. While useful, such an approach can be less effective than desired at identifying ethical and social issues and minimizing harm if it occurs separately from the scientific community, or is conducted in the abstract and general rather than linked to actual features of planned or ongoing research. Our overall goal is to devise an approach to examine the ELSI issues associated with microbiome research. We propose to use the frameworks of Constructive Technology Assessment and Value-Sensitive Design because they are designed to evaluate research specifically incorporating social context and values, and are well suited to evaluating rapidly-moving and boundary-challenging technologies such as those used in microbiome research. We propose to use a dual concept of risk as a tool to link discussions of abstract questions about values and social implications with specific features of research. This analysis will be used to identify potential research design alternatives that could minimize value conflicts and could potentially be generalized to other genomic and biomedical research more broadly.
Our specific aims are:
AIM 1. To analyze how risk and benefit are conceptualized in research contributing to the understanding of the human microbiome and its applications, through: A) content analysis of scientific articles about microbiome-related research B) content analysis of microbiome articles in the lay media AIM 2. Determine the relationship between microbiome research questions or design, concepts of risk and benefit, and societal values, in order to inform research conduct, through: A) extended, structured interdisciplinary dialog with experts in microbiome research, technology assessment, and ethical and social analysis B) writing and disseminating white papers and articles
Our overall goal is to devise an approach to examine the ELSI issues associated with microbiome research. We propose to use the frameworks of Constructive Technology Assessment and Value-Sensitive Design because to evaluate research specifically incorporating social context and values and the concepts of risk and benefit as a tool to link discussions of abstract questions about values and social implications with specific features of research.
|Sankar, Pamela L; Cho, Mildred K (2015) Engineering Values Into Genetic Engineering: A Proposed Analytic Framework for Scientific Social Responsibility. Am J Bioeth 15:18-24|
|Human Microbiome Project Consortium (2012) Structure, function and diversity of the healthy human microbiome. Nature 486:207-14|
|Human Microbiome Project Consortium (2012) A framework for human microbiome research. Nature 486:215-21|