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Hum Gene Ther. 2014 Aug;25(8):740-6. doi: 10.1089/hum.2014.030. Epub 2014 Jun 17.

Prevailing public perceptions of the ethics of gene therapy.

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1 National Core for Neuroethics, Child and Family Research Institute, University of British Columbia , Vancouver, BC, V6T 2B5 Canada .


Gene therapy research is advancing rapidly, and hopes of treating a large number of brain disorders exist alongside ethical concerns. Most surveys of public attitudes toward these ethical issues are already dated and the content of these surveys has been researcher-driven. To examine current public perceptions, we developed an online instrument that is responsive and relevant to the latest research about ethics, gene therapy, and the brain. The 16-question survey was launched with the platform Amazon Mechanical Turk and was made available to residents of Canada and the United States. The survey was divided into six themes: (1) demographic information, (2) general opinions about gene therapy, (3) medical applications of gene therapy, (4) identity and moral/belief systems, (5) enhancement, and (6) risks. We received and analyzed responses from a total of 467 participants. Our results show that a majority of respondents (>90%) accept gene therapy as a treatment for severe illnesses such as Alzheimer disease, but this receptivity decreases for conditions perceived as less severe such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (79%), and for nontherapeutic applications (47%). The greatest area of concern for the application of gene therapy to brain conditions is the fear of not receiving sufficient information before undergoing the treatment. The main ethical concerns with enhancement were the potential for disparities in resource allocation, access to the procedure, and discrimination. When comparing these data with those from the 1990s, our findings suggest that the acceptability of gene therapy is increasing and that this trend is occurring despite lingering concerns over ethical issues. Providing the public and patients with up-to-date information and opportunities to engage in the discourse about areas of research in gene therapy is a priority.

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