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People who have donated biological material and data to science have a right to be informed of any significant discoveries that may arise from research down the line, a National Institutes of Health-funded committee. In a statement signed by 26 experts and published earlier this week, the committee concluded that biobanks housing donated materials, as well as researchers working on them, should shoulder the responsibilities of contacting and sharing any incidental findings with the original donors.
Currently, less than half of US biobanks return results to the donors of biological material, Nature reported. The NIH-funded committee, led by Susan Wolf of the University of Minnesota Law School in Minneapolis, suggested that biobanks create committees specialized for this purpose.
However, there are worries about the ethical and logistical implications of keeping track of the identities and contact information of donors, as well as the costs.
“It's unfortunate that the authors of the consensus statement didn't discuss the cost implications of what they're proposing, because what they have in mind is going to be expensive and difficult, particularly at a time when funding success is as low as it's ever been,” Ellen Wright Clayton, a pediatrician and lawyer at the Center for Biomedical Ethics and Society at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, told Nature.
Read a recent opinion piece about increasing the participation of donors in biomedical studies, and how openness can foster better research.