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NIH Stimulus Grants to Consider Bioethics

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – The 15 "challenge areas" highlighted by the National Institutes of Health in its Challenge Grants program — which will distribute $200 million in stimulus funding to a variety of biomedical research areas — include grants for studies that explore bioethical questions and for developing new information technology for use in personalized medicine.

An information technology grant program seeks researchers to develop and advance technologies to support using family histories in personalized medicine. These could be quantitative and qualitative studies of patient, provider, and health system uptake, and other studies that could be used in future risk assessment tools that utilize personal genomic information.

The challenge areas identified by NIH include ten bioethics-focused programs that address issues that have arisen along with the genomics era.

One grant request seeks studies of informed consent and data access policies. NIH sees an urgent need to address how genomic information will be handled as medical records are moved to electronic formats.

Another funding opportunity aims to support research into the ethical, legal, and social implications of the marketing of genetic tests directly to consumers, which NIH says has "raised many issues." NIH wants researchers to explore whether these technologies are being brought to the public prematurely.

"What is the potential for consumers to be educated, helped, confused, or even misled by these services? How do those who use these services react to the information they receive?" NIH inquired in the request.

Studies also could focus on issues associated with natural selection research, because studies of recent positive selection in the human genome have methodological challenges that "can have significant ethical and social implications," NIH explained.

Other studies could aim to address the potential implications of research findings about the genetics involved in non-disease attributes, such as the aging process and diurnal rhythms, which could potentially stigmatize some groups.

Research also is needed, NIH said, to support ethical, legal, and social issues related to the collection and use of genotype tissue expression information and phenotype data in the NIH Roadmap's GTEx Project and others like it.

NIH also will fund research that will involve two-year programs that will develop IRB guidelines for how to handle recontact issues in Genome-Wide Association Studies.

The grants will fund studies of the unique ethical issues posed by emerging technologies, such as tissue engineering, synthetic biology, and nanomedicine. These issues could include dual-use research, privacy, safety, intellectual property, commercialization, and conflict of interest.

Scientists also could focus on ethical issues in health disparities and access to participation in research, NIH said.

There also are ethical difficulties involved in translating genetic knowledge into clinical practice. NIH will fund studies related to broad sharing and use of genetic information and technologies for research to improve human health and human subject protection in genomic and genetic research.

NIH also intends to fund studies that explore the ethical issues that may be raised by the blurring distinction between clinical practice and research, which may become more pronounced as genetic information is increasingly included in medical records.

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