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ResourcesHuman Research Ethics For Vulnerable Populations, the Thorny Ethics of Genetic Data Collection – UnDark (Adrian Pecotic | September 2019)

Australasian Human Research Ethics Consultancy Services Pty Ltd (AHRECS)

 For Vulnerable Populations, the Thorny Ethics of Genetic Data Collection – UnDark (Adrian Pecotic | September 2019)

Published/Released on September 30, 2019 | Posted by Admin on October 10, 2019 / , , , , , , , ,
 


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To be equitable, genetics research needs more diverse samples. But collecting that data could exploit the very people scientists intend to help.

IN 2009, RESEARCHERS collected DNA from four elderly men in Namibia, each from one of the many San indigenous communities scattered across southern Africa. A year later, analyses of the men’s DNA were published in the journal Nature — alongside that of South African human rights activist Desmond Tutu. The intention, in part, was to increase the visibility of southern, indigenous Africans in genetic-based medical research. Soon after, a nongovernmental organization (NGO) representing indigenous minorities in Southern Africa took issue with the consent procedures used to gather the data and wrote to Nature’s editors accusing the paper’s authors of “absolute arrogance, ignorance, and cultural myopia.”

The San case highlights the thorny ethics of collecting genetic data. Yet today, to make medicine more equitable, scientists see the importance of sampling DNA from more diverse populations. Most genetic research uses DNA from descendants of Europeans, which means the related medical applications — such as genetic tests to see the likelihood of developing a certain disease, called polygenic risk assessments — can only benefit those populations. In 2018 in the United States, for example, the National Institutes of Health launched All of Us, a research program that aims to collect DNA, electronic health records, and other data, from about one million Americans with emphasis on including many different groups of people.

“When we do genetic studies, trying to understand the genetic basis of common and complex diseases, we’re getting a biased snapshot,” said Alicia Martin, a geneticist at the Massachusetts General Hospital and the Broad Institute, a biomedical and genomics research center affiliated with Harvard and MIT.

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