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Balancing the local and the universal in maintaining ethical access to a genomics biobank

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    Rights statement: The Author(s). 2017 Open Access This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made. The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver (http://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/) applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated.

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Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-11
Number of pages11
JournalBMC Medical Ethics
Volume18
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - 28 Dec 2017

Abstract

BACKGROUND: Issues of balancing data accessibility with ethical considerations and governance of a genomics research biobank, Generation Scotland, are explored within the evolving policy landscape of the past ten years. During this time data sharing and open data access have become increasingly important topics in biomedical research. Decisions around data access are influenced by local arrangements for governance and practices such as linkage to health records, and the global through policies for biobanking and the sharing of data with large-scale biomedical research data resources and consortia.

METHODS: We use a literature review of policy relevant documents which apply to the conduct of biobanks in two areas: support for open access and the protection of data subjects and researchers managing a bioresource. We present examples of decision making within a biobank based upon observations of the Generation Scotland Access Committee. We reflect upon how the drive towards open access raises ethical dilemmas for established biorepositories containing data and samples from human subjects.

RESULTS: Despite much discussion in science policy literature about standardisation, the contextual aspects of biobanking are often overlooked. Using our engagement with GS we demonstrate the importance of local arrangements in the creation of a responsive ethical approach to biorepository governance. We argue that governance decisions regarding access to the biobank are intertwined with considerations about maintenance and viability at the local level. We show that in addition to the focus upon ever more universal and standardised practices, the local expertise gained in the management of such repositories must be supported.

CONCLUSIONS: A commitment to open access in genomics research has found almost universal backing in science and health policy circles, but repositories of data and samples from human subjects may have to operate under managed access, to protect privacy, align with participant consent and ensure that the resource can be managed in a sustainable way. Data access committees need to be reflexive and flexible, to cope with changing technology and opportunities and threats from the wider data sharing environment. To understand these interactions also involves nurturing what is particular about the biobank in its local context.

    Research areas

  • data access, informed consent, Biobank, research ethics, Genomics

ID: 49062083