Background: There is widespread disagreement about the type of consent needed for research with stored biological samples. Many believe consent for each future use is required to respect individuals. Others worry this approach may block important research.
Methods: We analyzed 1670 consent forms signed by research participants at the Warren G. Magnuson Clinical Center, National Institutes of Health, between January 1, 2000, and May 31, 2002, that offer options for future research with participants' biological samples. The research participants were healthy volunteers, family members of affected individuals, and individuals with a broad range of medical conditions enrolled in clinical research studies with and without the prospect of direct medical benefit.
Results: Overall, 87.1% of research participants given the option chose to authorize future research on any medical condition. More than 85% permitted unlimited future research with their stored biological samples regardless of sex, age, geographic location, or whether the individual was affected by the disease being studied or a healthy volunteer. Only 6.7% of those given the option to refuse all future research did so. Although African Americans were less likely to permit future research, 75.0% of African Americans still authorized unlimited future research with their samples.
Conclusions: Most research participants authorize the unlimited future research use of their biological samples when given the opportunity to do so. These findings suggest that providing research participants with a simple binary choice to authorize or refuse all future research might allow individuals to control use of their samples, simplify consent forms, and allow important research to proceed.