Ethical conflicts in translational genetic research: lessons learned from the eMERGE-III experience

Genet Med. 2020 Oct;22(10):1667-1672. doi: 10.1038/s41436-020-0863-9. Epub 2020 Jun 18.


Purpose: The Electronic Medical Records and Genomics (eMERGE) Consortium integrated biorepository-based research with electronic health records (EHR) to return results from large-scale genetic tests to participants and uploaded those data into the EHR. This article explores the ethical issues investigators encountered in that process.

Methods: We conducted in-depth, semistructured interviews with study personnel of the eMERGE-III Consortium sites that returned results.

Results: We discuss major ethical issues that arose while attempting to return research results from the eMERGE Consortium to individual participants. These included difficulties recontacting those participants who had not explicitly consented to such and disclosing results to many participants with insufficient infrastructure and staff. Investigators reported being driven by a supererogatory clinical impulse.

Conclusion: All these issues ultimately derive from ethical conflicts inherent to translational work being done at the interface of research and clinical care. A critical rethinking of this divide is important, but infrastructural support for such work is necessary for an ethically sound rollout of large-scale genetic testing.

Keywords: electronic health records; genomic testing; regulation; research ethics; translational research.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Electronic Health Records*
  • Genetic Research
  • Genomics*
  • Humans
  • Translational Research, Biomedical