In the past State of the Union address, Obama announced his precision medicine initiative involving the creation of a new, national level biobank.
Biobanks collect biological samples (e.g., DNA, cells, tissues, blood) and health and lifestyle information (e.g., disease information, smoking habits). By collecting it once, biobanks store biosamples and information such that they can be used as new biomarkers are discovered. As the samples are shared with others, biobanking research offers a novel research platform to perform large-scale, epidemiological studies in order to associate genotypic or biological information with healthand disease. Many nations have made significant investments into biobanking research creating national level biobanks such as the U.K. Biobank, which has half a million samples, and the Icelandic biobank called deCode Genetics.
Obama’s goal is to have at least 1 million American volunteers enroll in the biobank which will aim to conduct longitudinal studies examining genes, health and the environment. Collecting these many samples may not be so straightforward concluded a panel of experts at a recent workshop at the National Institutes of Health. Several scientific and logistical issues were discussed. What types of diseases will be studied? Who will have access to the data? Who will be recruited? Will samples from other biobanks be incorporated into the precision medicine initiative? Yet with the many scientific and logistical issues, there are numerous ethical issues including informed consent, commercialization, and the return of results that must be given due consideration.
The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers a Master of Science in Bioethics, a Doctorate of Professional Studies in Bioethics, and Graduate Certificates in Clinical Ethics and Clinical Ethics Consultation. For more information on AMBI's online graduate programs, please visit our website.