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Behavior, Brain GWAS Raise Potential Ethical Concerns, Researchers Suggest

A pair of Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam researchers reporting in Nature Neuroscience consider the potential ethical and societal impacts of behavior- and brain-related trait-focused genome-wide association studies, particularly around possible harms and strategies for avoiding them. Although GWAS centered on neurological disorders, psychiatric conditions, and other brain-related traits can offer biological clues and the basis for disease prediction tools in the clinic, the team suggests, such studies may also lead to individual or societal harms including genetic or genomic discrimination, the stigmatization of specific traits or conditions, the misuse of genetic data to privacy concerns, inappropriate or subjective trait selection in embryos, and erroneous clinical risk predictions. The authors explored these possibilities and looked at some relevant laws and regulations before proposing a set of guidelines that called for the involvement of bioethicists in such studies, along with patient or community inclusion, clear communication of results, efforts to correct misunderstandings or misuse of results, and checks on how results should or can be used by others. "Given the success of genome-wide association studies and the increasing availability of nonclinical genomic prediction technologies, better laws and guidelines are urgently needed to regulate the storage, processing, and responsible use of genetic data," they suggest, arguing that "researchers should be aware of possible misuse of their results."