Genomics and High-Consequence Infectious Diseases: A Scoping Review of Emerging Science and Potential Ethical Issues
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Host genomic research on high-consequence infectious diseases is a growing area, but the ethical, legal, and social implications of such findings related to potential applications of the research have not yet been identified. While there is a robust ethical debate about the ethical, legal, and social implications of research during an emergency, there has been less consideration of issues facing research conducted outside of the scope of emergency response. Addressing the implications of research at an early stage (anticipatory ethics) helps define the issue space, facilitates preparedness, and promotes ethically and socially responsible practices. To lay the groundwork for more comprehensive anticipatory ethics work, this article provides a preliminary assessment of the state of the field with a scoping review of host genomic research on a subset of high-consequence infectious diseases of relevance to high-level isolation units, focusing on its ethically relevant features and identifying several ethical, legal, and social implications raised by the literature. We discuss the challenges of genomic studies of low-frequency, high-risk events and applications of the science, including identifying targets to guide the development of new therapeutics, improving vaccine development, finding biomarkers to predict disease outcome, and guiding decisions about repurposing existing drugs and genetic screening. Some ethical, legal, and social implications identified in the literature included the rise of systems biology and paradigm shifts in medical countermeasure development; controversies over repurposing of existing drugs; genetic privacy and discrimination; and benefit-sharing and global inequity as part of the broader ecosystem surrounding high-level isolation units. Future anticipatory ethics work should forecast the science and its applications; identify a more comprehensive list of ethical, legal, and social implications; and facilitate evaluation by multiple stakeholders to inform the integration of ethical concerns into high-level isolation unit policy and practice.