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Environ Health Perspect. 1995 Apr;103 Suppl 3:69-74.

Ethical considerations, confidentiality issues, rights of human subjects, and uses of monitoring data in research and regulation.

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Industrywide Studies Branch, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, Cincinnati, OH 45226, USA.


Biomarkers are potentially powerful tools for use in research and regulation. Their derivation from biologic specimens collected from human subjects does, however, present many ethical implications. Ethical issues are relevant in almost each facet of human biomarker research studies: design, identification and recruitment of subjects, handling and use of the data, and interpretation and communication of results. Researchers also face a number of dilemmas when considering the use of human biologic specimens and new biomarkers. The mere fact that such markers are the result of measurements in human specimens gives the appearance of being more accurate than traditional sources of information such as questionnaires or environmental monitoring; yet, this may not always be the case. The meaning of the results of biomarker studies may be unclear because the purpose of the study is usually for research rather than clinical purposes. There generally are no established normal ranges for biomarkers and the interpretation of findings are often difficult. Researchers may not communicate these results to subjects or consider followup action because the task may be too difficult or undefined, or the reaction of the subject cannot be anticipated. A wide range of practices in this regard exists among researchers. Many questions remain unanswered about the use of biologic specimens. These include questions of ownership and access to specimens. Related to this is the question of whether specimens collected for one research purpose can be used for an entirely different research purpose. This is still an open question.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 250 WORDS)

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