News in Translational Research: Too Much Information?

Although today’s blog has little to do with tissue engineering specifically I thought that it would be a great opportunity to discuss last Saturday’s article in the New York Times, linked below:

New York Times: Genes Now Tell Doctors Secrets They Can’t Utter

This article discusses the quandaries faced by researchers and doctors who discover things about their patients which are not covered by the consent forms. Instances include: discovering that a patient has a gene which has been linked to a significant risk of a particular cancer, discovering that the patient sample contains the HIV sequence (though whether a transient or permanent infection can’t be determined without further testing), or negatively, discovering a patient doesn’t have a gene that they thought they had, and therefore could avoid breast surgery.
It seems that doctors and researchers tend to go to bat with ethical boards to fight to let patients know when they discover that a patient can take preventative action. However, scientists are less certain about what to do when they discover the patient has a risk of a disease that they can’t be proactive about. And what if the patient specifically stated they never wanted to be contacted? If the establishment contacts the patient and asks if he want to reconsider, then that implies that there is something he ought to know.
As a scientist a few levels removed from the clinic, I generally don’t have these sorts of worries. However, a few months ago, some of my transplants became tumorigenic. These transplants had been seeded with cells donated by an actual patient (at my level we are just given a number identifier for the patient). As I am not involved in the clinic, I spoke to the relevant people, and down the chain all the cells were pulled and marked as not suitable for transplantation. The tumors could have been formed from anyone of multiple factors, chemical sterilization treatments of the scaffolds, contact with tumorigenic mouse cells transplanted in the same mice etc. And a repeat of the experiment with slightly different conditions yielded no tumors, however, that ugly incident is probably the closest I’m going to get to bench-to-bedside effect.

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