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Ethics of ‘Counting Me In’: framing the implications of direct-to-patient genomics research

Abstract

Count Me In (CMI) was launched in 2015 as a patient-driven research initiative aimed at accelerating the study of cancer genomics through direct participant engagement, electronic consent and open-access data sharing. It is an example of a large-scale direct-to-patient (DTP) research project which has since enrolled thousands of individuals. Within the broad scope of ‘citizen science’, DTP genomics research is defined here as a specific form of ‘top-down’ research endeavour developed and overseen by institutions within the traditional human subjects research context; in novel ways, it engages and recruits patients with defined diseases, consents them for medical information and biospecimens sharing, and stores and disseminates genomic information. Importantly, these projects simultaneously aim to empower participants in the research process while increasing sample size, particularly in rare disease states. Using CMI as a case study, this paper discusses how DTP genomics research raises new questions in the context of traditional human subjects research ethics, including issues surrounding participant selection, remote consent, privacy and return of results. It aims to demonstrate how current research ethics frameworks may be insufficient in this context, and that institutions, institutional review boards and investigators should be aware of these gaps and their role in ensuring the conduct of ethical, novel forms of research together with participants. Ultimately, a broader question is raised of whether the rhetoric of participatory genomics research advocates for an ethic of personal and social duty for contributing to the advancement of generalisable knowledge about health and disease.

  • Databases- Genetic
  • Ethics- Research
  • Genetic Privacy
  • Informed Consent

Data availability statement

Data sharing not applicable as no datasets generated and/or analysed for this study.

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