Background: Large-scale whole genome sequencing (WGS) studies promise to revolutionize cancer research by identifying targets for therapy and by discovering molecular biomarkers to aid early diagnosis, to better determine prognosis and to improve treatment response prediction. Such projects raise a number of ethical, legal, and social (ELS) issues that should be considered. In this study, we set out to discover how these issues are being handled across different jurisdictions.
Methods: We examined informed consent (IC) forms from 30 cancer genome sequencing studies to assess (1) stated purpose of sample collection, (2) scope of consent requested, (3) data sharing protocols (4) privacy protection measures, (5) described risks of participation, (6) subject re-contacting, and (7) protocol for withdrawal.
Results: There is a high degree of similarity in how cancer researchers engaged in WGS are protecting participant privacy. We observed a strong trend towards both using samples for additional, unspecified research and sharing data with other investigators. IC forms were varied in terms of how they discussed re-contacting participants, returning results and facilitating participant withdrawal. Contrary to expectation, there were no consistent trends that emerged over the eight year period from which forms were collected.
Conclusion: Examining IC forms from WGS studies elucidates how investigators are handling ELS challenges posed by this research. This information is important for ensuring that while the public benefits of research are maximized, the rights of participants are also being appropriately respected.