As part of my training to become a genetic counselor, my graduate program had us participate in a Research Rotation. No, we didn’t sit behind microscopes and make scientific discoveries. A large part of this rotation was following around research assistants as they attempted to consent patients in a medical center to participate in a biobank. A biobank is basically a collection of DNA samples that can be accessed by multiple researchers in the institution. What was cool about this particular biobank is that it was hooked up (in a deidentified way) to the participant’s medical record. So, researchers were able to see what medical issues developed over time, what interventions worked, etc. for this particular participant. It was a way that the researchers could have up to date clinical information in a secure and private way, without constantly bugging the research participant for an update on his/her medical history.
So, as a student, I tagged along as the research assistants attempted to recruit patients who were already getting their blood drawn for another reason, to just have one extra tube drawn, and consent for participation in the biobank. I was surprised by how many people said no. Some did not want to have an extra tube of blood taken. Some didn’t want anyone to have access to their medical information, even in a deidentified way, and some just didn’t want to participate in research altogether.
Even now, through my interaction with patients, I see the spectrum of how individuals view participating in research. I’ve had patients say, “Sure, why not?” when asked if they want to participate in research. I’ve had other patients even request that their samples be used for research, even if we are only conducting clinical testing. Then there are those that don’t trust the genetic research process and don’t want their samples or results getting in to the wrong hands. Especially when there is no direct benefit to them for participating, the choice is often to forgo participation.
Participating in research is always a personal choice, and one should never feel that they are being coerced to participate, However, I’d like to encourage you that if you are given the choice to participate in research, if participation is not a burden, then please consider doing so. This may be as simple as spending 10 minutes answering questions in Survey Monkey for a student’s thesis or dissertation research, or allowing a lab to use the remainder of your blood sample for deidentified research following a clinical test. Especially when it comes to genetic research, the only way that we will progress in our knowledge and understanding of the genetic basis of disease, genetic variation in different populations, and the effects of genetic awareness and education on the public, is if individuals from various populations participate in research. Your participation is necessary to grow the field of genetics, the understanding of our genomes, and the role of genetic testing in the public arena.