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Incidental Findings in Low-Resource Settings

Much new global genetic research employs whole genome sequencing, which provides researchers with large amounts of data. The quantity of data has led to the generation and discovery of more inciden­tal or secondary findings and to vigorous theoretical discussions about the ethical obligations that fol­low from these incidental findings. After a decade of debate in the genetic research community, there is a grow­ing consensus that researchers should, at the very least, offer to return incidental findings that provide high-impact, medically relevant information, when it is not unduly burdensome to the research enterprise to do so.

Much as genetic research has been limited to U.S. and European set­tings, the incidental findings debate has primarily focused on research conducted in high-income countries. In a 2015 paper, Alberto Ortiz-Osor­no, Linda Ehler, and Judith Brooks note salient differences between the circumstances of research participants in low- and high-resource settings that alter the analysis of when and why incidental findings should be of­fered to research participants. In this article, we expand on their analysis and present a framework for thinking about how investigators’ obligations to return genomic data might change in low-resource settings, particularly in settings where participants do not have access to the medical care needed to treat, assess, or monitor incidental findings that are actionable in settings with plentiful resources.


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