Legal & ethical compliance when sharing biospecimen

Tomas Klingstrom, Erik Bongcam-Rudloff and Jane Reichel

Abstract

When obtaining samples from biobanks, resolving ethical and legal concerns is a time-consuming task where researchers need to balance the needs of privacy, trust and scientific progress. The Biobanking and Biomolecular Resources Research Infrastructure-Large Prospective Cohorts project has resolved numerous such issues through intense communication between involved researchers and experts in its mission to unite large prospective study sets in Europe. To facilitate efficient communication, it is useful for nonexperts to have an at least basic understanding of the regulatory system for managing biological samples. Laws regulating research oversight are based on national law and normally share core principles founded on international charters. In interview studies among donors, chief concerns are privacy, efficient sample utilization and access to information generated from their samples. Despite a lack of clear evidence regarding which concern takes precedence, scientific as well as public discourse has largely focused on privacy concerns and the right of donors to control the usage of their samples. It is therefore important to proactively deal with ethical and legal issues to avoid complications that delay or prevent samples from being accessed. To help biobank professionals avoid making unnecessary mistakes, we have developed this basic primer covering the relationship between ethics and law, the concept of informed consent and considerations for returning findings to donors.

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